Friday, February 2, 2018

Turandot in Torino – Find the Diva

OK, so imagine you're a diva who can actually sing the role of Turandot. And you get hired for a production. And and the director says, "You'll never be on stage alone. You will be surrounded by the female chorus, and they will all be dressed exactly like you and move exactly like you. And they all be will  lip-synching your part with you. [Ed.: and some will over-act*.]  And, you will lip-synch all the choral parts with them. So most of the audience won't even be able to tell you're the actual diva."
Where's Waldo Turandot?
"Hmmmm," you think in your diva brain, "I am not that egotistical, I can handle that."

And then the director says, "Oh by the way, the opera ends when Liu dies—there's no big final happy ending duet. In fact, you die when Liu dies, and that's it." If you're still on board, then you are an exceptional diva!

So, they ended the performance where Puccini stopped writing, much as Arturo Toscanini did at its premiere almost 100 years ago. Toscanini stopped there because he wasn't pleased with either of Alfano's endings. And although the opera's also been completed by Luciano Berio (!!!), that ending didn't appeal to this director and maestro either. So they decided to follow Toscanini's lead. This shifts the focus away from Turandot's (less than convincing anyway) transformation from ice princess to love diva. And that's where Liu comes back in. She is in love with Calaf simply because he was nice to her. Not because she's bloodthirsty, vengeful, and unavailable. Calaf always seems more interested in "conquering" Turandot than actually loving her (or being in love with her). If he wanted love, Liu is right there for him. He's kind of a Pinkerton to me. But I digress.

This is a very cool  production (both in the sense of "hey, that's cool" and in the sense of not too emotionally overwrought). Liu seems to be the main characterand quite possibly the only "real" character on stage. Turandot the opera is presented as an obsession with the concept of pure love (or maybe just unattainable love). Turandot the princess is the concept of pure love (or at least untouched lovethere is a difference!)

I like that they didn't try to "Asian-ize" this production. Apart from all the "cultural appropriation"  bruhaha that could ensue, it makes the whole concept of "Turandot as a concept" more universal. Ping, Pang, and Pong are just as funny and/or sinister as guys in fancy suits, and Liu is just as touching in her neutral-but-lovely costume, hair, and makeup. There is plenty to watch; in fact I watched it twice, because I was so distracted/intrigued by the choreography the first time around. The staging, like the music, is bold and striking (literally); but it also contains some moments of true beauty. This is another opera that I didn't remember knowing so well. (But thinking back, I got that odd one with Sutherland, Caballe, and Pavarotti back in the day; and apparently I listened to it...a lot!!) 

The singing in this production was fair to good. My least favorite was Calaf, though it's not a vocally grateful role to begin with. I loved Liu and was pleased with Turandot. Timur and the other basses and baritones did a nice job, too.

Sometimes I advise people to wait to watch the "making of" and "behind the scenes" interviews till after seeing the opera. But I felt more on point with the production having looked at the pre-search and gained a little insight beforehand. So, follow your heart, but I recommend checking out the background stuff first. 

This production has sent me off on a search for the real ending of Turandot. I guess that'll be another blog post. The full Alfano ending (Alfano 1) is available on YouTube, as is the Berio ending (in fact, the Berio ending is on DVD out there somewhere with (sigh) Nina Stemme in the title role.) Alfano 2 (edited version of Alfano 1) is the one we're used to hearing. It's time for some research, I guess. 

I like that OperaVision (formerly known as the Opera Platform) is now using embedded YouTube as their platform. It makes it easier to get the broadcast over onto my smart TV, and it generally makes transmission more reliable. 

*A couple of them wouldn’t seem out of place on RuPaul’s Drag Race, if you know what I mean

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