Beijing Meets West in Spectacular ‘Turandot’
The Lyric Opera House
06/09/2001 - 10*, 13, 14, 15, 17 June 2001
Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
Audrey Stottler (Turandot), Frank Porretta (Calaf), Liping Zhang (Liu), Nikita Storojev (Timur), Armando Ariostini (Ping), Patrick Toomey (Pang), Dean Anthony (Pong), Jonathan Stuckey (Mandarin), Scott Priest (Altoum)
Gao Guangjian, Zeng Li, Huang Haiwei (set design)
Wang Yin (costume design)
Andrea Licata (conductor)
Chen Weiya (director and choreographer)
Baltimore Opera Company Chorus
The Baltimore Opera Company's production of Turandot was a visually splendid close to the company’s 50th anniversary season. It was also a rare and visually spectacular treat. The production featured enhanced sets and costumes from the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino that were used in the Beijing-Forbidden City production, aired nationally over public television two years ago. Coming directly from the Tokyo Opera Company to Baltimore, this production marked the first time these extraordinary trappings have been seen in North America. The visual aspects were magnificent, each set and set of exquisite, hand-made costumes bringing a rainbow of images and colors. Unquestionably, the beauty and detail that flowed through this production made this Turandot one of the most eye-appealing efforts one is likely to see.
For as important as are production elements to total operatic satisfaction, it’s the singing that counts and this production found Turandot’s singing solid, secure, and, appropriately spectacular. Leading off the cast was Audrey Stottler as Turandot. She alternated performances with Giovanna Casolla. Unquestionably, Stottler has a powerhouse dramatic soprano that easily rang out over the 75-member orchestra that allowed no singers on stage any accommodating slack volume wise in more full-bodied moments. Stottler punched out the notes, yet managed to soften them with a lyrical quality that prevented them from sounding harsh. Solidly in control of the vocal requirements, she delivered an appealingly imperious and imperial portrayal that found her Turandot more actively engaged in the storytelling than most who tackle this role. In fact, having seen Stottler several times before as Turandot, it seems as if this current portrayal is her most mature and appealing.
Her Calaf was deftly handled by Frank Porretta, who last season sang this role with the Virginia Opera. In a brief year’s time, Porretta has gained a maturity of sound and style that played well in his delivery. Whereas he previously tended to cut short phrases, seemingly to deliver climactic ringing top notes, he now has permitted portamento qualities to rule and the results were most appealing. Porretta did, however, suffer projection problems, mostly due to the wall of sound coming from the large orchestra. Indeed, Licata could have helped him out a bit through more careful balancing and positioning on stage.
Fortunately, for his “Nessun Dorma,” Porretta was placed far downstage, permitting his lines and lyrics to be easily heard. And they were well worth hearing. Certainly not a powerhouse in the vein of our international superstars (indeed, who can truly match the best days of Domingo and Pavarotti and Carreras), Porretta’s delivery was admirable and clean and focused. He stopped the show, literally, to permit extended whooping and foot stomping from the house. Porretta alternated the role with Kristjan Johannsson.
Soprano Liping Zhang was a splendid and sensitive Liu, a role she is scheduled to sing during her 2002 Royal Opera House debut. Zhang brought theatrical awareness to her Liu, which added profound poignancy to death scene. Her vocal control and artistry were beyond reproach as she scaled the pianissimo heights with ease and elegance. Such a performance makes one wonder, again, if the opera really isn’t Liu’s.
Russian bass Nikita Storojev delivered a touching Timur and a resonant, rich sound that delighted the ear. His interaction with Zhang's Liu was touching and convincing. Armando Ariostini, Patrick Toomey, and Dean Anthony effectively delivered the trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong, respectively. To their individual and collective credits, this trio offered characterizations that provided distinct personalities, which added to the enjoyment of their merriment.
The Baltimore Opera chorus was some 54-voices strong and strong voiced they were. The chorus exhibited strength, cohesion and sensitivity to the task at hand, which is much the constant quality exhibited this season by this quite fine choral ensemble.
Chen Weiya doubled as director and choreographer. His overall direction was solid and sensible, the movements of the 100 or so people involved in on-stage comings and goings finding logic and purpose. His choreography added considerably to the visual appeal and effect, the traditional Chinese movements setting a standard for other productions that attempt, as so many have done so often and so poorly, to bring appropriately thematic dance movement into the tale.
Andrea Licata led the large orchestra with a knowing baton, the results appropriately, by turn, strong and sensitive, although there was room for the occasional softening of sound to assist with some of the singing and to shape better overall balance.
Baltimore Opera did itself proud with this Turandot. The extended and enthusiastic applause from the audience and the generous and seemingly sincere reception of it from the stage seemed to suggest a mutual admiration that was gratifying and glowing.
John C. Shulson