(Turandot, Metropolitan Opera of New York, 2016)
Once again TVC turned up to the Nova Palace in Adelaide to watch another chocolate-box treat in the form of Turandot, Puccini’s last opera, filmed in January 2016 at the New York Met (not the Mets). This ‘Orientalist’ production based on an original design by Franco Zefferelli (who knew a thing or two about prettying-up a set) is choreographed beautifully, in a yin-tong, Mikado style, by Chiang Ching. A troika of sopranos have appeared in the run and the HD film (courtesy of the Neubauer Family Foundation – we must invite that family to Australia and show them a good time) features the mightily impressive Nina Stemme in the title role. Marco Berti is Calàf, who gets to sing the top song in the Puccini box set of Hits For Tenors.
The sets are lavish, sumptuous, filled with Chinoiserie, ahistorical, and histrionic. Before the gong, neither performers nor conductor lose their heads. But the story reads and plays like a half-baked fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm or Perrault on a bad day. It’s a shocker – it’s actually an outrage – and Puccini’s Nero-like nastiness is ever present. Goodness knows how unfair, in procedural terms, Turandot would have been if the composer’s heart hadn’t attacked him before he finished the piece. And the romance that ‘triumphs’ in the end is a perversion on a grand scale (we applaud David Allen’s 24/9/15 review in the NY Times that “Calàf’s forcible kiss in the third act…was so black, so hollow, that the opera’s final, triumphant resolution could only be seen as a charade.“) But one supposes that the ludicrous plot can be put down to “inscrutability” and sit back to enjoy some unquestionably gorgeous music. The four leads are good to terrific (particularly Anita Hartig as Liu, the real hero of the piece).
Paolo Carignani conducted, and wrangled several very fine moments from both chorus and orchestra. The score seems fairly modern – hints and presages of Hermann, Barry, Morricone and Rota – and each Act ends with a BANG. Yet there is something cold, flat, empty and fake at the heart of Turandot. On the other hand, in a Woody Allen film someone complains that sex isn’t real, whereupon he observes that it’s one of the best fake things to do. Perhaps that’s Turandot’s insight?
We conclude with some riddles:
What is born each night and dies each dawn?
A: Hope B: Ping C: The test pattern
What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?
A: Blood B: Pang C: Traffic Light
What is like ice, but burns like fire?
A: Turandot B: Pong C: Athletic embrocation