Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Night at the Opera: A New Take on Puccini's Turandot



I first saw Puccini’s Turandot years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when I heard that a production was coming to the English National Opera in London, I had to secure tickets.

The best part of our night at the opera was our seats. We were in the front row stalls, center stage, seated directly behind the Conductor. You couldn’t have had better seats than these. The music was superb with Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as “the unknown prince” and German soprano Kirsten Blanck as the “ice princess” headlining the performance. Jones’ rendition of “Nessun Dorma” was amazing, reminiscent of Pavarotti, and I have no complaints on the music whatsoever.



However, this particular production of Turandot was a bit too quirky for me to give it a fully positive review. As you can see from the production photos, the costumes were a bit over-the-top on the scale of randomness, ranging from Elvis impersonators, pregnant mothers-to-be, retro golfers and tennis players, and goth and punk youngsters. While I appreciate what director Rupert Goold was probably trying to achieve in “individualizing” the members of the chorus, I found that this tactic created a constant annoyance to me, distracting me from the superb vocal and orchestral performances and cheapening the overall production. The English National Opera is known for putting a contemporary spin on classic operas, but this went beyond presenting a darkly modern interpretation of the original and at certain points even inserted obvious, but silent side storylines that were never written by Puccini. I didn’t understand the purpose of this as it added no visual or musical value to the experience. The stage sets were fantastic, no complaints there.



We watched Rupert Goold’s production of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” last December and to date it has been my favorite show in the West End, so I was a bit surprised to see this eclectic and sometimes nonsensical interpretation of one of the greatest operas of all time. Apparently the gentleman seated beside me was a bit thwarted as well. At various points throughout the performance he would shake his in disagreement with what he saw on stage and at one point dramatically dropped his head in his hands, gasping, and averting his eyes from the performance altogether. Next time I think I’ll avoid the English National Opera altogether and stick to the traditional Royal Opera House.





Overall, it was a great performance by all musicians and a terrific night at the opera, but I could have done without the arbitrary and outlandish costumes which at times made me feel like I had accidentally wound up at a night at the circus instead.

Puccini's Turandot Production Photos (Courtesy of C. Ashmore):

Act 1: Liu - the Slave Girl and The Prince


Act 1: Ice Princess -- Princess Turandot


Act 3: "Nessun Dorma" (No One Shall Sleep)


Act 3: Liu would not reveal the Prince's name

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