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Contemporary Colorful Turandot

San Diego
Civic Theater
01/29/2011 -  and February 1, 4, 6, 2011
Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
Lise Lindstrom (Turandot), Carlo Ventre (Calàf), Ermonela Jaho (Liù), Reinhard Hagen (Timur), Jeff Mattsey (Ping), Joel Sorensen (Pang), Joseph Hu (Pong), Joseph Frank (Emperor Altoum), Manuel Paz Castillo (Prince of Persia), Scott Sikon (A Mandarin), Tiffany Carmel and Anishka Lee-Skorepa (Handmaidens)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Charles Prestinari (Acting Chorus Master), San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Edoardo Müller (Conductor)
Lotfi Mansouri (Director), David Hockney (Set Design), Ian Falconer (Costume Design), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Michael Whitfield (Lighting Designer), AnnaLisa Lauer-Hansing (Acrobat Choreographer)

(© Cory Weaver)

San Diego Opera launches its 2011 season with a “first” and a “last.” The “first” opera to arrive at The Civic Theater is the stunning and exhilarating chinoiserie masterpiece, Turandot which was Giacomo Puccini’s “last” opera. “The sum is greater than its parts” expression aptly describes a culmination of talents brought together in one grander than grand spectacle that is brimming with vibrant saturated color on all levels.

Many connect Turandot with Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish and opulent set, yet here we have another take using David Hockney’s colorful interpretation under the reign of venerable Lotfi Mansouri who opts for a production laden with fairytale magic. Credited for creating children’s books and involvement in float designs for Disneyland, Ian Falconer fashions outfits for the 180 plus cast members that are reminiscent of storybook characters. Falconer’s costumes, Whitfield’s lighting and Bryant’s makeup are brilliantly interwoven to provide thematic continuity.

(© Cory Weaver)

Turandot requires three powerful leads who frequently need to override the orchestral forte. Making her San Diego Opera debut is native Californian Lise Lindstrom who catapulted to instant stardom when she was asked to replace the scheduled Turandot two hours prior to a performance at The Metropolitan Opera. Sudden cast changes bring instant fortune to a singer, and in this case, Ms. Lindstrom was blessed with such occasion. Since her initial debut as the Ice Princess in New York City, Lise Lindstrom joins the limited list of distinguished dramatic sopranos who accomplish the demands of Turandot.

Audiences are accustomed to a Turandot with a large, declamatory voice. In this instance, however, Ms. Lindstrom’s approach is toned down, exhibiting her interpretation with poise and elegance. While her nuanced gestures suggest traditional Chinese mannerisms, her “In questa reggia” reveals a high register tessitura with less heft. Lindstrom’s presence is dynamic.

Having visited San Diego for Madama Butterfly and Simon Boccanegra in separate years, Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre fills the shoes of Turandot’s suitor, Calàf. Mr. Ventre’s reading weighs heavily on an oratorical approach and lacks credible fortitude and emotional presence. Static on stage, Mr. Ventre is better suited in a concert format. Nonetheless, his rendition of “Nessun dorma” is acceptably executed, and it is well received by the opera patrons.

Ermonela Jaho sings Liù with ease and effortlessly handles the demanding reaches. In her famous act I aria, “Signore, ascolta!” she comfortably hits the A flat octave jump and reaches the final B flat with affecting pianissimo in the final “Ah pietà!” It is sublime. Jaho receives the loudest and longest applause at curtain call in part due to her soulful display of “Tu che di gel sei cinta.” We sympathize with Liù, and she resonates with the audience.

Additionally, the ministers play an integral part in Turandot. Ping, Pang and Pong, sung by Jeff Mattsey, Joel Sorensen and Joseph Hu, respectively, are in their element. All three express fondness of their roles citing the beautiful stretch of music Puccini created for the beginning of Act II (“Ho una casa.”) The trio of “comic relief” is a respite from the heaviness of the score although the antics appear a bit overdone. AnnaLisa Lauer-Hansing’s Act II acrobatic troupe “a-la-Disney” discordantly interrupts the integral action and detracts from forwarding the storyline.

Acting Chorus Master, Charles Prestinari commands the chorus with an effective punch, and we’re bowled over by their presence. Under the baton of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Edoardo Müller delivers a substantial performance despite an occasional languishing tempo, evidenced by jagged cadences with vocals. Unfortunately, the pit relies on self initiative.

Since Puccini never lived to complete Turandot, several endings have been composed based on his remaining sketches. While the debate continues, there is a general consensus favoring the Franco Alfano version. In this production San Diego Opera uses the 268 bars (again abbreviated), a most appropriate option.

Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot prerequisites are demanding. This production has contemporary tilt, filled with a full pallet of saturated color in every way.

Christie Grimstad



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