Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Turandot - an opera in three acts (1924-26)
Turandot: Luana De Vol; Liù: Barbara Frittoli; Calaf: Franco Farina; Timur: Stefano Palatchi; Ping: Lluis Sintes; Pang: Francisc Vas; Pong: David Alegret; The Mandarin: Philip Cutlip
Orquestra Simfònica i Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu/Giuliano Carella
rec. Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2004
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 (widescreen)
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (All Regions)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish Catalan
Bonus: “Luana DeVol: Following the Dream”
ARTHAUS 107 305 DVD [132:00 (opera); 19:00 (bonus)]
A recent release of a performance from several years ago, this DVD of Turandot makes available an estimable staging of the opera. When the Gran Teatro del Liceu reopened in 1999 after its tragic fire, the house celebrated the occasion with a new production of Puccini’s Turandot, which has since been revived. Among the notable revivals is one in 2005, which included Barbara Frittoli as Liù, along with other internationally known soloists. At the risk of overstatement, this recording deserves particular attention because of Frittoli’s deft performance of this role. As familiar as the opera Turandot has become for modern audiences, the characterization of Liù sometimes fails to get the attention often accorded the sopranos who take on the virtuosic title role. Here, though, Frittoli brings Liù with elegance, grace, and authority. She is essentially a dramatic and musical force, and at Liù’s death, this production pauses appropriately. This moment merits attention for the way in which it is shown to affect Turandot, here sung by American soprano Luana DeVol.
In the title role DeVol offers a solid reading. She succeeds in the more demanding passages and also sustains her command of the stage in the subtler ones. The orchestral balance never seems to challenge DeVol in her solo passages, and so it is possible to apprehend some of the nuances she gives her character, especially in the penultimate scene between Turandot and Calaf. On only a few occasions DeVol seems a little stressed, but she never succumbs to some of the strident sounds Franco Farina unfortunately delivered in this live performance. The DVD is based on a television broadcast. This seems to be the result of the demands from sometimes lingering tempos, and those who know Farina’s voice realize the qualities he brings and can admire the effort he gave in this otherwise fine performance. His understated “Nessun dorma” is fitting, and drew the appropriate response from the audience, with good continuity in the following scene that leads to Liù’s confession of love and her death.
Stefano Palatchi’s Timur is solid, as are the well-rehearsed ensembles of Ping, Pang, and Pong, here sung by Lluis Sintes, Francisco Vas, and David Alegret. Vocally appealing, the trio is subjected to costumes that resemble evening gowns, which gather at their upper chests to suggest uncharacteristic cleavage. This androgynous element is at odds with the customary depiction of these three characters, a detail that would be easy to ignore if the roles were less prominent. Yet this weakness in the production is the exception, rather than the rule in this generally effective staging.
On the whole, though, this performance offers details made possible through the medium of film. The intimate exchanges between Turandot and Calaf have an authentic ring through the proximity of the characters to each other on stage, and their ensemble simultaneously reaches the audience well. Some moments of the duet before the Finale suggest the second act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with the suggestion of a starry night behind the characters, who are not competing with the sets in this staging for the attention of the audience. The focus remains on the music, with the close camera angles under-scoring the transformation of Turandot as it occurs in the score.
At the same time it is difficult to imagine Turandot without the crowd scenes that connote the pomp and splendor of the ancient Chinese court. Here stage director Núria Espert positioned the chorus and supernumeraries creatively. The result is animated, rich, and full and the sound supports the theatrical effects. The choral numbers are well staged and sonically differentiated. As expected, the opening scene must have a dark sound to convey the straits of the populace in light of Turandot’s fatal contest, and the chorus reflects satisfactorily. In a similar way, the exuberant chorus at the Finale has an appropriately celebratory tone, which emerges not only from the music Puccini set, but the tone shaped by chorus master Oscar Boada and supported by conductor Giuliano Carella. At the end the chorus has the final word, and in this case, it is quite effective.
The bonus is a short film devoted to DeVol’s career. It provides some background on the soprano’s career, along with her approach to singing. It concludes the disc, which has the usual features, like subtitles in multiple languages. The sound engineering offers realistic balances between vocal and instrumental sonorities, with the reverberation never obtrusive. The visual dimension is good, with the lighting supporting the whole. Those who have not yet seen this production may want to pursue it in this release on DVD.
James L Zychowicz
Frittoli brings elegance, grace, and authority to an estimable staging of the opera.