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Turandot a triumph for @OperaPhila

Operatoonity.com review: Turandot presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Sunday, October 2,  2016, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto:  Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

five stars

 

 

turandot-007

Princess Turandot (soprano Christine Goerke) has vowed never to marry unless a man of noble birth can solve her three riddles. | Photo by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Some say Turandot, Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, unfinished when he died, is his tour de force. Puccini lovers including a number of Operatoonity.com readers cite its adventurous musical qualities. Lush orchestration with exotic Asian elements, both instrumental and compositional. Not to mention opera’s most famous tenor aria “Nessun Dorma.”

Puccini’s magnum opus may prove to be Opera Philadelphia’s tour de force this season. Their Turandot was nothing short of fearless and peerless spectacle, boldly embracing both the mystery and vibrancy of Asian culture on every level–sight, sound, movement, concept, staging, lighting, costume. It was the most mystical, moving mainstage production I’ve witnessed in five years.

 Princess Turandot (soprano Christine Goerke) has vowed never to marry unless a man of noble birth can solve her three riddles. | Photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Princess Turandot (soprano Christine Goerke) has vowed never to marry unless a man of noble birth can solve her three riddles. | Photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

However, not because of the title character, sung in this production by dramatic soprano Christine Goerke. The storyline builds up Turandot’s first entrance so unrelentingly and thoroughly that the audience’s anticipation of their first glimpse and hearing of the frosty princess is palpable. Perhaps only ghosts of opera greats Sutherland and Tebaldi could satisfy this pent-up expectation for an imperiously icy Turandot who sings in unforgettable form.

Princess Turandot (soprano Christine Goerke) addresses Calaf, who has announced he will attempt to solve her deadly riddles. | ohotos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Princess Turandot (soprano Christine Goerke) addresses Calaf, who has announced he will attempt to solve her deadly riddles. | photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Goerke sung a serviceable Turandot but not a great one. She was stronger in her third act duets with Prince Calaf than in the second, when she first appears. She screeched a few high notes in “In questa reggia,” the aria during which she explains that the obscure riddles are intended to avenge her ancestress, killed when an evil warlord conquered her kingdom.

“An evening never recovers from a cracked high note. It is exactly like a bullfight. You are not allowed one mistake.”  — Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) 

Granted, this may be the most difficult soprano role Puccini ever wrote, requiring the talents of a legendary soprano like Birgit Nilsson. However, Goerke sang the role at the Met last season. If she is considered one of the best of her contemporaries, that is not the Goerke I heard that afternoon.

 Liù (soprano Joyce El-Khoury) explains how she has stuck by her master, Timur, because his son, Calaf, once smiled at her.

Liù (soprano Joyce El-Khoury) explains how she has stuck by her master, Timur, because his son, Calaf, once smiled at her.

By contrast, from the first note of her first aria, soprano Joyce El-Khoury sang a meltingly lovely Liù that compelled listeners to lean in to capture every note.  The show may be entitled Turandot, but in this production, El-Khoury’s Liù captured the devotion of the audience and the heart of this critic.

Calaf (tenor Marco Berti) declares he will put his life on the line to win Princess Turandot’s heart. Photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Calaf (tenor Marco Berti) declares he will put his life on the line to win Princess Turandot’s heart. Photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

As The Prince with No Name, tenor Marco Berti, faces a daunting professional challenge because “Nessun Dorma” is all but attached to the ubiquitous Pavarotti version. Berti’s take was beautiful and powerful, and the audience lauded him for his effort.  His overall performance was sturdy, if a little wooden, especially when Liù pours out her secret love for him. Based on his performance, the supertitle of his reaction to her heartfelt, heartbreaking confession should have been, “Meh.”

The exiled king Timur (bass Morris Robinson) discovers his slave girl, Liù, has sacrified herself for love. | photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

The exiled king Timur (bass Morris Robinson) discovers his slave girl, Liù, has sacrified herself for love. | photos by Kelly and Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Bass Morris Robinson’s performance as King Timur was pitch perfect in every way. His voice was in excellent form and his sympathetic characterization of an exiled, broken ruler authentically and deeply felt.

While the opera company did not furnish a production photo of Ping, Pong, and Pang to share with Operatoonity.com readers, much to my chagrin, this reviewer would be remiss not to fete them as a highlight of this production. Daniel Belcher as Ping, Joseph Gaines as Pong, and Julius Ahn as Pang were frighteningly entertaining, at times barbaric, and also, in one shining number, highly sympathetic, as they recounted their previously happy lives in peaceful hometowns before being summoned into service for the Princess of Death.

Now that’s range!

Perhaps Opera Phila didn’t want to fuel any more complaints of ethnic stereotyping by providing pictorial evidence of these portrayals. However, just like the fictional kingdom in which they serve, these characters were a brilliant mash-up of more world cultures than a Kia Soul commercial and no genuine cause for concern–at least in this production.

The entire opera chorus from the littlest priest to all the villagers living under Turandot’s tyranny (the show’s Greek chorus) to the lithest dancer deserves kudos. So does conductor Corrado Rovaris and his versatile opera orchestra, whether playing gongs, indigenous instruments, or Western ones merely tuned to sound like they are native to the Far East.

Riddle me this, Operatoonity.com. If the performances weren’t five stars with every turn (except for El-Koury and Robinson), why the five-star rating? The direction, the orchestra, the spectacle, the high concept were out of this world.

Director and Choreographer Renaud Doucet staged an arresting, layered production that must be experienced. The stunning lighting, staging, and choreography of this show have already premiered at companies with whom Opera Philadelphia is co-producing this show including Minnesota Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera, and Seattle Opera, but (with any luck) not all.

A singularly original and richly satisfying opera. That’s what Opera Phila brought to the City of Brotherly Love. Turandot was a triumph. Simply put, Turandot is Opera Philadelphia.

 

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don’t quote me . . .

poster for Dupage Opera Theatre's 'Turandot'

 

Create for me something that will make the world weep. 

–Giacomo Puccini, to his librettist for Turandot 

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meet soprano Zita Tátrai tonight on “Operatoonity”

Zita Tátrai

Have you ever met someone with so many gifts, you know she was destined for truly remarkable things? Today’s guest, Hungarian-born soprano, Zita Tátrai, is such a talent.         

(And has so many of them–talents that is).         

She sings, is a stage actress, is a principal voiceover artist for movies and television, writes articles and short stories for the Hungarian Evening News, and she paints, so beautifully, she was commissioned by the United Nations to paint a mural in Honduras and her paintings are in many private collections.         

As an opera singer, she certainly made her mark quickly. She was a finalist of the “Cittá del Alcamo” International Singing Competition 2006, and semi-finalist of the Rocca Delle Macíe International Singing Competition 2006, the 5TH Ottavio Ziino International Opera Competition in Rome 2006 and The First International Singing Competition “Tommaso Traetta”  in 2007.         

You’ve had a great deal of success as a stage and film actress. When did you start your operatic studies and why? I always loved singing, but only started to deal with opera after I listened to a Tosca record with Maria Callas, and followed the lyrics from the booklet of the LP. It was magical. I realised how in an opera one has to be perfect musician, actor and singer at the same time! It is a great challenge. That was the moment I’ve got hooked up. Lots of training and study followed, first in Hungary, then everywhere else I could find the right Master for my next steps.         

Zita

Where in Hungary did you grow up? And where is home these days?
I was born and raised in the North East part of the country amongst lovely hills and woods. I still love the countryside and nature with great passion. As a teenager I moved to Budapest, and started my acting career. If you have ever been to Budapest, you will understand why it has been called the Paris of the East by many (although it is rather in the middle of Europe not so much East,) and why all the men keep saying how gorgeous girls are there. They really are.  In the last 7 years I have lived in England, and it became my second home country. I have learned very much from the English people, and I found them very noble, and proud with a special love and interest in classical music.         

Budapest, across the Danube

You sing a lot of recitals in Europe. Which do you prefer–recitals or performing in an opera?        

They both have their beauty but as an actress, my true love is opera, being the character, interacting with my partners and telling a story in this ultimately aesthetic form is something which can be the most wonderful experience. I only can recommend it to anyone to go to your closest Opera Theatre and enjoy the ride! (most of them have subtitles nowadays, which helps understanding the story.) And while you are there, observe how Opera Singers don’t use any microphones, and can be louder than the full orchestra, filling the theatre with their voice solely using the resonating parts of their body as amplifiers.         

What is your typical day like?
After my coffee and checking and answering my mail, I usually start to practise and prepare for my next performance, or learn new roles, and always try to find a new angle or different viewpoint to work on. I am very passionate about music, and have a great deal of joy out of studying, and discovering more and more possibilities in the pieces. As fitness is very important in singing I try to make myself run 2-3 times a week, and also do some other exercises, then if I do not have any other social duty I would go back to my music, and studies, or paintings.        

Zita's painting, entitled Lake 2

You’ve taken masterclasses is New York. Have you performed in the U.S.? If not, would you like to?
No, I haven’t performed in the U.S. yet but yes, I would really love to.     

If you fulfill your ambition, what is your life like in five years?  In ten years?
Ha, ha! In five: I’m singing the greatest Dramatic Soprano roles in the greatest houses; in ten: about the same, but being even better in it, and maybe having some children too.        

I see you have a lot of Verdi in your repertoire? Is he your favorite composer? What is your favorite role? Your favorite opera (and why?)
This is a very difficult question. I love Verdi. At the same time Puccini made me fall for opera on the first place. I could say my voice’s favourite composer is Verdi. My favourite roles are changing as I am working on something new it grows on me and for that time it becomes my favourite. It changes.        

As a European, what is the center of the opera universe, in your opinion?
The minds and hearts of those people, who love it, and who care enough to introduce others to this miracle.        

One fun fact about Zita is that she is the voice of “Xena, The Warrior Princess,” the Hungarian language version. Incredible, no?        

Zita, you are a woman so blessed, you have gifts to tackle any challenge before you.         

Readers, you will enjoy this YouTube clip of Zita singing from Turandot (by Puccini):        

YouTube Preview Image

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opera posters…

The best thing about an opera production shouldn’t be its marketing collateral. That being said, opera companies in the US and around the world have created some stunning posters–award winning pieces–to advertise their shows. They are so intriguing, they might entice you to go see a production you know nothing about. However, if you do know the premise of each opera featured below, some of these designs are nothing short of “pure, dead brilliant.” Clever, fresh–all of them. With any luck the ingenuity of the production surpassed the marketing effort.   

four contemporary posters for classic operas

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