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Symphony Hall
01/21/2011 -  & January 22, 23 (Phoenix), 29, 30 (Tucson), 2011
Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
Othalie Graham (Turandot), Arnold Rawls (Calaf), Jill Gardner (Liù), Kevin Langan (Timur), Andrew Garland (Ping), John McVeigh (Pang), Bryan Griffin (Pong), Kevin Wetzel (Mandarin), Cameron Schutza (Prince of Persia), Barry Stein (Altoum), Amanda Castellone (Handmaiden #1), Robyn Rocklein (Handmaiden #2)
Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (Chorus Master), James Meena (Conductor), Phoenix Boys Chorus, George Stangelberger (Music Director)
Bernard Uzan (Director), Doug Provost (Lighting Designer), Patricia A. Hibbert (Costume Designer), Peter Graves (Set Designer)

A. Rawls & O. Graham (© Globalthinking.com)

After a brilliant The Pirates of Penzance, a more than decent Carmen, Arizona Opera carries on the celebration of its 40th anniversary season with an opulent Turandot. Bernard Uzan's direction remains in the tradition of grand opera, the exotica of legendary China, with sumptuous beaded, silk-screened, colorful costumes, and ornate, Hollywood-style sets.

On a perfect night, Turandot is a competition between the three leads to steal the show. Last night, the winner was unquestionably the Calaf of Arnold Rawls. The singer has all the prerequisite for the part, signing a quasi perfect "Nessun dorma" that brings the house to their feet. His heroic voice is in glorious condition, the timbre is pleasing, the high register stunningly easy, powerful, with ringing authority. Rawls could definitely sing this part on the world's most prestigious stages. Opposite the sensitive prince, Othalie Graham is a commanding Turandot. She is alternately icy and vulnerable, delivering a more than acceptable "In questa reggia". The slight vibrato in the high register does not alter an otherwise powerful rendition of this fearsome aria, with a voice that easily carries through the house, flying over a thundering orchestra.
Jill Gardner in the part of Liù also brings the house to their feet at curtain call. The sound is full, the middle register velvety, with a seductively golden tone, allowing Gardner to naturally convey every emotion. She sings a touching "Signore, Ascolta" in Act 1, complete with the traditional sobs, and a deeply moving "Tanto amore segreto" before she stabs herself in Act 3.
Andrew Garland (Ping), John McVeigh (Pang), and Bryan Griffin (Pong) are beyond reproach in their Commedia dell'arte number. Dressed in sumptuous silk costumes, the three ministers of the court easily navigate through an elaborate choreography, and prove to be excellent singers. Barry Stein and Kevin Langan do justice to the supporting roles of Altoum and Timur, rounding up a laudable cast.

A. Garland, J. McVeigh, B. Griffin (© Tim Fuller/AZO)

But the real stars of any Turandot are the orchestra and chorus, providing the colors of legendary China and the pathos of verismo. Luckily, conductor James Meena uses the traditional Alfano ending (as imperfect as it is), much preferred to pointless compositions by Luciano Berio, or Hao Weiya. Meena travels through this complicated score with noticeable eloquence, underlying the Mussorgsky-like commentary on the action. His enthusiastic baton yet leaves the singers space to breathe in such stentorian orchestra. The Arizona Opera Chorus delivers a much enviable performance, and so does the Phoenix Boys' Choir. Appearing in the most prestigious concert halls or opera houses, this world acclaimed musical group has received, to name a few, a Grammy Award, and has won first place at Vienna's Musikverein's International Youth Music Festival.

Congratulations to Arizona Opera for an arresting presentation of Puccini's masterpiece. We look forward to Verdi's Otello in March.

The Phoenix Boys Choir
Arizona Opera 2011/2012 Season

Christian Dalzon



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