Evaluate: A Stylized Turandot at Houston Grand Opera

Composer Giacomo Puccini liked quick automobiles, quick ladies, and cigarettes. It was the cigarettes that killed him, leaving his ultimate masterpiece, Turandot, unfinished. There have been sketches of the ultimate scene and Adami and Simoni’s accomplished libretto that remained, however the music was left hanging. Legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, who would conduct the opera’s world premiere at Milan’s La Scala and dramatically finish the efficiency on the exact second within the rating the place Puccini stopped his orchestration, had been requested by a dying Puccini “not to let Turandot die.”

Toscanini licensed up-and-coming composer Franco Alfano to complete the manuscript, and that is the model we hear immediately. It’s a hybrid, for positive, nevertheless it actually appears like Puccini, lush and Italianate, because it attracts tunes from earlier scenes utilizing Puccini’s fragments as inspiration for the wonderful love duet. The ultimate scene is nearly as good as it should get.

But this HGO co-production (a quintet comprising Teatro Real of Madrid, Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Vilnius, Canadian Opera Company of Toronto, and Opera National de Paris) is way faraway from the heated ardour of Puccini’s intentions. It is chilly and reserved, chilling and unemotional. What else might it’s because it’s billed in this system as “A Robert Wilson Production.”

For sure theaterphiles, Wilson is a god, a modernist of psychological probing who makes use of lighting and scenic results in beautiful unique work (Eisenstein on the Beach) or when re-imagining classics. But his schtick is starting to pale. Nothing ages as quick because the avant-garde.

He is a grasp of stylization. Characters transfer glacially, caught in ungainly semaphore positions that appear like Egyptian tomb friezes gone mad, staring straight forward, not interacting with others. Meanwhile, the lighting – right here, neon strips that edge the proscenium backside or drop in from the flies – have a lifetime of their very own, brightening when the music hits a climax, glowing softly within the intervals.

It is minimal within the excessive and completely anti-dramatic. Which, I suppose is Wilson’s intention. However, this strategy makes an entire hash out of Puccini’s fairy story which is full of grotesquerie, a fickle individuals’s blood lust, and an ice princess of historical China who, with one wink of her eye, might flip Disney’s Frozen heroine right into a slushy.

Poor Turandot. She’s received points. She hates males, and in her second act entrance aria, the leather-lunged “In questa reggia” (“In this palace”), she lays out the explanation for her hatred. A thousand years in the past her ancestor, one other princess of China, was raped and killed by invading Tartars. Turnadot has vowed revenge. Anyone who asks for her hand should reply three riddles. If they fail, they lose they head. There have been 12 thus far this yr, sing her ministers, Ping, Pang, and Pong, with ghoulish relish. Even the kids sing about severed heads on sticks. But Calaf, the lead tenor, falls immediately in love with this celestial imaginative and prescient. He will win her, although she vows by no means to be possessed.

This is all specified by Puccini’s plummy rating with diatonic chords, previous Chinese melodies, and wisps of recent music sweeping Europe by way of the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. It’s wonderful music, the epitome of Italian opera after Verdi. Puccini took up the icon’s mantle and wore it magnificently.

Wilson does not do something with Puccini’s radiance. He negates it, lessens it, turns it right into a sterile pageant with out feeling. This is a live performance model with fancy costumes and lighting results. There’s no drama within the staging. How might there be with characters frozen in area. Only ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong cavort like commedia dell’arte buffoons, leaping in place with humorous faces or strolling shortly in mincing little steps.

What’s odd is that they do that in “white face.” Is this Wilson’s reply to the fees of cultural appropriation that is been just lately heaped upon Turandot and Madame Butterfly? This is not any higher answer to “yellow face.” It’s simply as objectionable. Though superbly sung by Takaoki Onishi, Andrew Stenson, and Carlos Enrique Santelli, this up to date comedian trio is as unacceptable as the unique D’Orly Carte manufacturing of The Mikado. (All characters are rendered in white face; the higher to see them, stated Wilson in a HP interview.)

So then what are we left with? The singing is superb. Tamara Wilson, as Turandot, acquits herself with distinction on this heavy position that may be a touchstone for any dramatic soprano. She hits all of the notes with drive and conviction however there is a fullness of tone that is lacking. Granted, she’s an ice princess, however her voice wants heat and plushness. This is not her first Turandot, however she’s nonetheless discovering her approach across the position, and I’m positive in time the rosiness and velvet will come.

Tenor Kristian Benedikt, cannot do stylized. He’s awkward and stilted when requested to maneuver like an automaton. He seems out of his consolation zone. But, like Wilson, he can sing Calaf’s grand stentorian traces with ease if not silky aplomb. He signature aria – the opera’s one hit tune heard worldwide, “Nessun dorma” (No one sleeps) – is straightforward pickings, regardless that he should ship it with arms straight out by his facet, trying like a cartoon cutout. All the eagerness of Puccini’s nice aria is dissipated. Not his fault.

Soprano Nicole Heaston discovered her quantity after her first look and sang a heartfelt Liu, in love with Calaf from afar. But she, too, like all of them, was saddled with static poses and peculiar hand gestures that left her adrift from any drama. Her ultimate aria, although, was gloriously phrased and most arresting. The trio of ministers, no matter their stereotyped shenanigans, sang their “remembrance” quantity with a candy lullaby reverie that might soften hearts. Peixin Chen was most spectacular as previous blind Timur, Calaf’s father who pleads along with his son to not woo Turandot.

Maestro Eun Sun Kim spurred the HGO orchestra right into a spirited journey of massed choral work, volcanic outbursts, and uncommon contemplative passages. This is Italian opera at its zenith, and she or he discovered nuance and brilliance inside Puccini’s large sonic canvas. The refrain sounded particularly grand, and refrain grasp Richard Bado obtained a rousing hand in the course of the curtain name.

This frozen, uninvolved manufacturing is not any definitive Turandot. Under director Wilson’s gimlet eye, it is as icy as our princess’s coronary heart. She would possibly soften below love’s heat, however the ultimate picture has her standing alone as lover Calaf blends into the inky background. She stands aloof in her Ming the Merciless blood-red costume, no happier than after we first met her. This is just not what Puccini wished, even when it killed him.

Performances are scheduled by way of May 8 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturday and Tuesday; and a pair of p.m. Sundays at Houston Grand Opera at Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For extra info, name 713-228-6737 or go to hgo.org. $25-$255.

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