Article Title:Review: NBR New Zealand Opera's Turandot
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:21st September 2007 - 02:23 pm
Internet Archive link:
Story ID:4976
Text:Review: Turandot, Opera in 3 acts by Puccini/Alfano NBR New Zealand Opera Margaret Medlyn, soprano as Turandot Nicholas Braithwaite, conductor with Auckland Philharmonia, Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus This production of Puccini's last and, some say, greatest opera was originally devised by Welsh National Opera in 1994 and directed by Christopher Alden. NBR New Zealand Opera secured the United States-based Roy Rallo to direct this airing, his pedigree coming mostly from California (Long Beach and San Francisco Opera companies) and minor houses in Denmark and Germany. It's a strange production, with many inexplicable departures from the action as outlined in the text by Adami and Simoni, most glaringly in Act Two, the point at which Puccini "…laid down his pen," as Toscanini quoted at the La Scala premiere in 1926, whereupon the conductor then laid down his baton. The sins mostly occur in the Act II torture and death of the slave girl Liù (wonderfully sing by Mari Costanza Nocentini, with old-fashioned sotto voce singing a la Claudia Muzio, something one seldom hears now), botched beyond belief, the action at complete variance with what is being sung. There are other oddities – why are the chorus dressed in white shirts and black ties, women as well as men? How does one explain the presence of typewriters in mediaeval China? Why is the Mandarin the only character dressed in the period of the original action? (other than the Emperor and his “shadow” Timur, that is, who, thank goodness, didn't appear respectively in Armani and Oppshop gear.) Quibbles aside, it was all worth it to hear New Zealand's emerging world-class bona-fide dramatic soprano Margaret Medlyn in her first “Turandot.” She donned the role as if it were created for her. The singing was transcendant, full of nuance, possessed of great beauty of tone, and powerfully delivered like a laser. In the opening bars one was reminded of one of the greats, Birgit Nilsson (who, in my interview on Wednesday, Ms Medlyn named as her ideal Turandot), but this was no slavish attempt to recreate a sound, only a measure of how the singer has truly “arrived” in this repertory. “In Questa Reggia” was deeply moving in the passage where Turandot tells why she is revenging her ancestress's violation. The riddles were like gauntlets, thrown down with fierce pride and assurance, and her meltingly lyrical singing in Act III in the love duet was convincing in what must be the most difficult part of the opera for the soprano to make so. Her Calaf, Korean Dongwon Shin, likely due to his many appearances in this role, was able to give a completely strain-free and almost laid-back interpretation. His ringing high notes left nothing to be desired, especially in “Nessun dorma,” predictably arousing the opening night house to frenzy. As the old deposed monarch Timur, Grant Dickson was very welcome, and his was a very affecting reading of the old man. Ping, Pang and Pong, sometimes described as the Three Stooges of Opera, were sung by Phillip Rhodes, winner of the 2007 Lexus prize (here proving that his win was not a happy accident by showing great control and dramatic flair), Adrian McEniery, and Benjamin Fifita Makisi, both marvelously comic and malevolent at the same time. The costumes by an un-named designer for the three are hilariously funny, all suits of primary colours complimented by outrageous matching hairy overcoats and fedoras. The Chapman Tripp Auckland Chorus was in full and radiant collective voice, and coped bravely with the sometimes ridiculous actions they were asked to perform, notably in the first scene where they appeared to be doing some sort of mysterious paired kung-fu exercises. I particularly enjoyed them in the riddle scene sitting in the deus ex machina as a massive “jury” with fans that became masks; compliments are due to their chorus master John Rosser. Nicholas Braithwaite conducted with craftlike precision and sensitive underpinning. Often I felt that the Auckland Philharmonia, always ready to let fly, was not given its head in the big tuttis, but on the other hand, the singers were always clearly audible, for which the band and conductor can be thumped soundly on the back. The verdict: well worth seeing and hearing for the great music and the questions such a production can pose for discussion. There are four more performances in Auckland, and four Wellington performances in October: AUCKLAND - Aotea Centre, THE EDGE Saturday 22 September, 7.30pm Tuesday 25 September, 1.00pm - matinée Thursday 27 September, 7.30pm Saturday 29 September, 7.30pm WELLINGTON - Westpac St James Theatre Saturday 13 October, 7.30pm Tuesday16 October, 6.00pm - early show Thursday18 October, 7.30pm Saturday 20 October, 7.30pm Larry Jenkins - 21st September 2007    
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