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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Turandot - opera in three acts (1924, completed Franco Alfano, 1926)
Turandot - Mlada Khudoley
Altoum - Manuel von Senden
Timur - Michail Ryssov
Calaf - Riccardo Massi
Liù - Guanqun Yu
Ping - Andrè Schuen
Pang - Taylan Reinhard
Pong - Cosmin Ifrim
A Mandarin - Yasushi Hirano
Prague Philharmonic Choir, Bregenz Festival Choir,
Children’s Choir of the Musikschule Bregenz-Stadt,
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Paolo Carignani
Production:
Stage direction and Set design: Marco Arturo Marelli
Costume design: Constance Hoffman
Lighting design: Davy Cunningham
Stunt and action choreographer: Ran Arthur Braun
Video design: Aron Kitzig
Sound design: Gernot Gögele, Alwin Bösch
Video direction: Felix Breisach
Dramaturgy: Olaf A. Schmitt
rec. live, July 2015 Seebühne (Floating stage), Bregenz Festival, Austria
Filmed in high definition
Picture Format: NTSC - 1080i High Definition/16.9 - All Regions
Sound formats:
Stereo: LPCM 2.0ch, 48 kHz/24 bit
Surround Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0ch, 48 kHz
Original language Italian. Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese
C MAJOR Blu-ray 731504 [125.00]

Each summer the Bregenz Festival with its vast floating stage on Lake Constance attracts large audiences. They seat approaching 7,000 people in the open-air auditorium on the shore. Since December 2003 David Pountney had been artistic director of the Bregenz Festival but has now moved to Welsh National Opera being replaced by Elisabeth Sobotka at the start of 2015.

I’m not sure how satisfactorily the huge Bregenz audience on their hard plastic seating experienced the view of the stage and the sound emitted from a large number of speakers. This newly released Blu-Ray of Turandot provides the best seat in the house. Incidentally a scene from the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008) was filmed at the Bregenz Festival during a performance of Tosca and contains an interesting view of the floating stage and an appreciation of the grand scale of the on-shore auditorium.

Of all the Puccini operas Turandot seems particularly well suited to spectacular and more lavish productions. This magnificent Marco Arturo Marelli staging certainly lives up to that. A couple of months ago I attended a Deutsche Oper production of Turandot in Berlin directed by Lorenzo Fioroni. It felt like a bargain basement mise-en-scène, tired and slapdash but thankfully Puccini’s magnificent score shone through the obscuring murk like a beacon.

Here at Bregenz on the floating stage Marelli replicates the Great Wall of China and a life-size terracotta army, creating an outdoor visual and audio spectacular. It won the International Opera Award 2015 in the category Festival of the Year. The brightly lit wall in a dragon shape has battlements and two towers made of large blocks in steel and wood. It is terracotta in colour being 72 metres long by 27 metres high. Watching over the proceedings are over 200 worn grey terracotta warriors stood on the battlements and in the water. Taking a year from conception to final assembly the wall is constructed from 29,000 pieces of steel and wood weighing in at 335 metric tons. Marelli’s production commences by collapsing a complete section of the wall. The stage is ingeniously fashioned and there is a giant circular LED screen used to transmit various images over the stage consistently and effectively throughout the production. With the stage open to the elements, at times it was possible to see rain drizzling on the performers and the breeze blowing banners and performer’s robes. Not surprisingly the performers were wearing microphones.

Started in 1920 Puccini died before he finished composing the final act of Turandot. Set to a libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni it was Franco Alfano, a pupil of Puccini who completed the opera with its première given in 1926 at La Scala, Milan. In brief, the plot involves Princess Turandot who has avowed that no man shall marry her unless he can correctly answer three riddles with failure resulting in beheading. Entranced by Turandot’s beauty Prince Calaf takes up the challenge determined to win her love. Incidentally in front of a television audience of millions it was tenor Luciano Pavarotti who famously sang Calaf’s aria Nessun Dorma at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. A recording of Pavarotti’s version of Nessun Dorma was used as the theme for the television coverage - all helping to make the aria even more celebrated.

Italian tenor Riccardo Massi, a Puccini specialist who knows the role well, excels as Prince Calaf. Quietly assured, the moustachioed Massi did a first-rate job displaying a bright and well focused tenor in Non piangere, Liù and giving a moving account of Nessun dorma. Experienced in the role of Princess Turandot, Russian soprano Mlada Khudoley dressed in a silver gown and veil made an unpleasant, callous and aloof Princess Turandot. Khudoley settled into an agreeably dramatic performance especially in her aria In questa reggia even if she was initially touch unsteady in this challenging role. Stealing the show as the slave girl Liù was Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu who received probably the loudest audience ovation. Wearing pigtails and dressed plainly in a grey coat Liù’s role was to stay in the background for much of the time watching events unfold. Guanqun Yu’s fluidly attractive voice in her aria Tu che di gel sei cinta was full of pathos and her suicide scene was most dramatic.

With long grey hair and beards and similar in both build and costume it was hard to tell apart Manuel Von Senden as Altoum Emperor of China from Michail Ryssov as the blind Timur. the dethroned King of Tartary. Ukrainian bass Ryssov was in excellent voice: rich and rock steady. He was especially successful in grieving over Liù’s death and holds her hand intoning Liù, sorgi! Ping, Pang and Pong played by Andrè Schuen, Taylan Reinhard and Cosmin Ifrim were decked out in grey trousers and waistcoats, and for some reason white spats, occasionally wearing multi-coloured kaftans and masks. The trio sang well and were reasonably amusing but I did wonder if more could have been made of the comedy element. I look forward to hearing Italian baritone Andrè Schuen in a more substantial role.

Constance Hoffman’s costume design was striking and provided an array of often colourful and creative outfits all looking especially vibrant against the backdrop of the night sky. The displays by the fire jugglers and martial arts acrobats were spectacular and brilliant sparks flew from the giant grindstone during sword sharpening. Outstanding too were the scenes of Ping, Pang and Pong wearing white aprons and red rubber gloves inspecting the glass jars containing severed heads preserved in formaldehyde. No less striking was the extravagant arrival by water of Princess Turandot in her boat illuminated by Chinese lanterns.

Under the direction of Paolo Carignani the playing of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra was excellent from start to finish together with impressive contributions from the choruses. Carignani’s speeds and dynamics seemed ideal and I like the way he astutely makes sufficient gaps at the end of the arias for audience applause. Patently the members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, Bregenz Festival Choir and Children’s Choir of the Musikschule Bregenz-Stadt had been well prepared and sang with pleasing unity.

Pulling the often busy stage action together tightly Felix Breisach’s video direction is employed satisfyingly. His cameras actively avoid viewer fatigue and monotony. The action concentrates exclusively on the stage and there are no close shots of the audience and none of the orchestra. Undoubtedly highly technically demanding to record the sound engineers have done a marvellous job with this live outdoors production, although, the orchestral sound could have been just a touch clearer. The sound formats employed on this Blu-Ray disc are an option of Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit and Surround Sound DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0ch, 48kHz. These have been engineered to a satisfying level of quality being clear and providing a pleasing balance between singers and orchestra. On my LED HD television the 1080i High Definition picture is sharply defined and satisfyingly coloured. This Blu-Ray presentation from C Major is out of the top drawer. It is also well annotated with informative essays ‘Living through love’ and ‘A few facts and figures on the stage technology’ by Olaf A. Schmitt together with a helpfully concise synopsis.

Directed expertly by Marco Arturo Marelli this magnificent 2015 Bregenz Festival production of Turandot entertained me royally from start to finish.

Michael Cookson

 

 




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