Tuesday 24 July 2018

It’s Opera Giacomo, but not as we know it - Turandot at Torre del Lago

Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini (Photo Cespa)
Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini (Photo Cespa)
Puccini Turandot; Martina Serafin, Nicola Pisaniello, Alessandro Guerzoni, Amadi Lagha, Lana Kos, Andrea Zaupa, Francesco Napoleoni, Tiziano Barontini, dir:Alfonso Signorini, cond: Alberto Veronesi; 
Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini  
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 14 July 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
The highs and lows of Turandot at the 64th Festival Puccini, Torre del Lago

The more time I spend in Italy the more I wonder about the point of being too much of a pedant. Italians go to the opera. They love music for its own sake no matter good or bad. The collective experience, the coming together to listen to music in glorious surroundings and chew the fat with your mates, and in lots of ways that’s enviable. But how forgiving should we be?

On 14 July 2018 the balmy opening night of the Puccini Festival, il gran mondo turned out in force for a performance of Puccini’s final opera Turandot under the music direction of Alberto Veronesi with Martina Serafin as La Principessa Turandot, Lana Kos as Liù and the French/Tunisian tenor Amadi Lagha as Il Principe Ignoto. It was rapturously received, the only note of dissent a lone priest who seemed quite exercised by the interminable intermission at 11.30pm - proper order if you ask me.

The location is quite frankly idyllic. In daylight hours the sleepy square facing the lake saw a trickle of expectant tourists waiting their turn to see the maestro’s Villa Museo and a few locals going about their business or chatting over an espresso. By 8 o’clock in the evening the square was flooded with Operaphiles with italianità.

The call to arms, the Humming Chorus, heralding the start, would have given Madam Butterfly a coronary, signalled a grudging drift towards seats that wasn’t going to interrupt the flow of geniality. The air of conviviality gradually spread into the auditorium with much mingling. A cast of Imperial soldiery circulated in various stages of undress whilst being mobbed by the selfie brigade. Perhaps they should add don’t touch the performers to the lengthy list of behavioural dicta before the performance?

You could argue that with a back drop of such natural splendour why bother with a set but there is some need for hard surfaces here if for no other reason than the sound would dissipate entirely. So, the set was serviceable and traditional rather than startling. A palace and a large central staircase flanked by imperial guardian lions their grandeur destroyed by the deployment of some aesthetically egregious downstage scenery trucks.

The conductor finally capered in jauntily to take his place on the podium beneath a coronet of insects lured to the light. The orchestra played well enough but the dynamism and pulsing energy that makes the score so intoxicating often melted into the evening air. Fortunately, a full voiced chorus lost none of its impact. What then revealed itself, dramatically at any rate, was a pretty lack-lustre affair. Turandot has enough dramatic inconsistencies of its own without compounding them with lazy cliché-ridden meanderings.

Characters came and went in unremarkable fashion. Ping gamely tried to inject some focus into the proceedings but Pang and Pong were having none of it, scarcely bothering to stay within their key light. Meanwhile the ‘trucks’ or more accurately black bricks, which acted as tabs, were pulled on and off more times than a whore’s drawers revealing a series of wholly superfluous tableaux vivants.

Lana Kos’ Lui seemed out of sorts unable to melt our hearts with the little gem that is ‘Signore, ascolta!’ Even Calaf judging by his gratuitously brusque treatment of her remained steadfastly underwhelmed which didn’t really sit with Liù’s later assistance in solving the riddles. Nothing new there then - just another notch in the centuries of female oppression.

What set the audience’s blood coursing was Amadi Lagha’s Calaf full of youthful self-confidence. He’s a man with chutzpa who likes to dice with danger adding an extra frisson to his performance. Capable of delivering phrases with a ringing ardour even when facing upstage - just because he can. Of course, we all know what the audience was really waiting for and they weren’t disappointed. A straightforward no holds barred stand and sing 'Nessun Dorma' which stopped the performance. To cries of ‘bis’ he responded with an encore, although I suspect he’d not have done so with a less accommodating soprano, not if he wanted to remain intatto.

I wondered if Martina Serafin might need to cut back a bit on the Turandots. Hers is an implacable and steely toned princess who dominates the stage, but her top has become a little wild, shrill even. The final duet was an unsubtle business that deteriorated into a vocal slugfest. Liu on the other hand redeemed herself with a nicely poised rendition of ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’.

In the end there was enough on show to have a jolly evening out, but it could have been so much more. There are some who think Turandot is an opera “beyond redemption” and would consign it to the rubbish bin of musical history. I am not among them, despite its obvious flaws, but performances like these give me precious little material with which to argue the contrary.

Puccini Turandot
Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini
14 July 2018
Turandot : Martina Serafin
Altoum : Nicola Pisaniello
Timur : Alessandro Guerzoni
Calaf : Amadi Lagha
Liù : Lana Kos
Ping : Andrea Zaupa
Pang : Francesco Napoleoni
Pong : Tiziano Barontini
Mandarino : Claudio Ottino
Conductor : Alberto Veronesi
Director : Alfonso Signorini
Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A study in dementia: a radical new version of Verdi's Nabucco from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★) - Opera review
  • Lithe and musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Premiere of a rarity: Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara and the Royal Opera - (★★★★★) Opera review
  • An impressive achievement: Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park - (★★★★½) Opera review
  • Alissa Firsova: Fantasy  (★★★★) - CD review
  • The cabaret tradition: Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb & friends in Weimar and Back (★★★½)  - CD review
  • A new, yet familiar piece: Benjamin Zander on his interpretation of Beethoven's Choral Symphony  - interview
  • More than just Vox patris coelestis: a new William Mundy disc from Edinburgh (★★★★)  - CD review
  • 75th birthday celebrations: Robin Holloway's chamber music on Sheva Contemporary  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Striking a chord: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home as a musical at the Young Vic  - (★★★★)  musical theatre review
  • Romantic exploration: Rheinberger and Scholz piano concertos from Simon Callaghan (★★★★)  - CD review
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