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1990, London ROH, Turandot

Turandot

Lyric Drama in Three Acts and Five Scenes

Composer : Giacomo Puccini
Librettist : Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni after Carlo Gozzi
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Opening night 10 September 1990
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Conductor : Sir Colin Davis
Director : Andrei Serban (Original Director Jeremy Isaacs)
Design : Sally Jacobs
Lighting : F Mitchell Dana
Choreography : Kate Flatt
Performers :

Turandot : Gwyneth Jones (10 Sept) / Ghena Dimitrova /
Galina Savova
Liu : Lucia Mazzaria-Scandiuzzi (10 Sept)
Timur : Robert Lloyd (10 Sept)
Calaf : Vladimir Popov (10 Sept)
Ping : Simon Keenlyside (10 Sept)
Pang : Robin Leggate (10 Sept)
Pong : Francis Egerton (10 Sept)
Mandarin : John Dobson (10 Sept)
Altoum : Bruno Caproni (10 Sept)
The Royal Opera Arena Chorus
Chorus Director: Terry Edwards
London Contemporary Dance Theatre
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia

Notes :

Soundbites

Noël Goodwin, Opera, November 1990

Turandot. Royal Opera at Covent Garden, September 10

Having lost the new production of Don Quichotte that should have opened the season, Royal Opera was able to begin sooner and slot in a couple of extra performances of Turandot with the rehearsal time saved. While it may have been opportune thinking to bring this back in the wake of World Cup familiarity with the Big Tune, it also meant a welcome return for one of the most spectacular and satisfying productions in the company’s repertory. Performances were topically dedicated to the memory of Dame Eva Turner, and Colin Davis, intended for Massenet, was able to turn instead to a work he conducted as a new production in Los Angeles and London in 1984.

His opening-night performance this season was rewarding in the best sense, for it realized the warmth and tenderness as well as the chill barbarity in Puccini. The orchestral playing was as finely-honed as the executioner’s sword, yet spacious enough for eloquent balance with intimate or passionate singing, in which the chorus built thrilling climaxes. Gwyneth Jones (who was to be followed at later performances by Ghena Dimitrova and Galina Savova) gave due tribute to her late mentor’s friendship and guidance with a Turandot of exciting vocal power, brilliant into the highest register, and with searching intensity of feeling to complement the fantasy figure she so vividly portrayed.

Her slow entry for the Riddle Scene was accomplished in sudden silence, Davis cutting off the orchestra for several moments until she was in place, which might have disrupted musical continuity but in fact increased anticipation. On her way in, Turandot showed something very like alarm in her eyes behind the half-mask as her glance lingered on the watching Calaf, Vladimir Popov (also the first of three tenors announced for the role). His ringing top had a fine fervour and some agility, though less body lower down; ‘Nessun dorma’ was decently done, with some thought about its nature, but his acting was lumpen, with stiff gestures and hands flexed from the sleeves of his tunic like banana-bunches.

A house debut brought Lucia Mazzaria-Scandiuzzi to sing a healthy plump Liù, vocally edgy and nervous in ‘Signore, ascolta’, more relaxed and secure in a touching suicide scene. Robert Lloyd (Timur) and John Dobson (Emperor) filled out their ungrateful roles with good vocal character, and Bruno Caproni was a firmly declamatory new Herald. Also new to his role was Simon Keenlyside (Ping), leading his fellow-Masks (Robin Leggate and Francis Egerton) with acrobatic agility; the blend of their voices made the first scene of Act 2 unusually affecting as their thoughts and dreams were voiced with much subtlety of orchestral support.

Jeremy Sutcliffe realised Andrei Serban’s original staging with care and concern for its detail, in Sally Jacobs’s splendid designs lit by F. Mitchell Dana. No less credit is due to Kate Flatt, whose choreography for the ten or so masked dancers (regrettably unlisted) plays the largest part in propelling the narrative in the foreground (while the chorus sing around and behind them), and whose stylized movement derived in part from the ancient Chinese discipline of t’ai chi actually gives a more telling visual character to a mythic presentation than any other Turandot I have seen.

Afterwards Jeremy Isaacs paid curtain-speech tribute to Dame Eva, and to Sir Colin in giving him the ROH medal celebrating the 25th anniversary of his debut with the company (where he was music director, 1971-86).

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