Monday 14 October 2019

A barren emotional landscape barely disguised by the production’s kitsch fairy-tale opulence: Turandot, Met Live in HD

Puccini: Turandot - Christina Goerke - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Marty Sohl )
Puccini: Turandot - Christina Goerke - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Marty Sohl )
Puccini Turandot; Christina Goerke, Yusif Eyvazov, Eleanora Buratto, James Morris, dir: Franco Zeffirelli, cond: Yannick Nezet Seguin; The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 12 October 2019 Star rating: 2.5 (★★★½)
A striking production with flashes of visual magic, in a visually diffuse broadcast, which fails to live up to the opera's interpretative challenge

Let me say from the outset, I love Turandot. There, I’ve said it. I’m out. But why not proud? Staring at the computer screen, I’m wondering what on earth to make of the Metropolitan Opera’s monumental Live in HD broadcast this Saturday 12 October (seen at the Barbican Cinema). So, let’s do the easy stuff first. This revival of the production, originally staged in 1987, was dedicated to the memory of Franco Zefferelli. Few artists have had a greater impact on Met. history than Maestro Zeffirelli, who died earlier this year, and his extravagant productions have delighted generations of opera goers. At Saturday’s performance Christine Goerke was the titular princess with Yusif Eyvazov as the self-destructive il principe ignoto. The Met. stalwart James Morris was Timur and Eleonora Buratto the lovelorn Liu. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted.

Despite my dogged determination not to give up on Turandot I read, a while back now, a particularly provocative piece by Michael Tanner in The Spectator 'Turandot is a disgusting opera that is beyond redemption'. As a result, a particular type of virulent weed planted itself in my operatic garden. I have been trying to prune it ever since. The failure or unwillingness of a slew of productions to address the difficulties inherent in the piece have fed the nagging doubt that my love for those synthetic chords, that percussive pulsing energy, its tunes from a tinkly rosewood music box wrapped in ritualistic splendour is a chimera devoid of any psychological verisimilitude.

Saturday’s performance didn’t help. Not even paying lip service to its interpretative challenges, it revealed a barren emotional landscape barely disguised by the production’s kitsch fairy-tale opulence. But as with all broadcasts, we are at the mercy of the director and sound engineer. Anyone who has seen The Capture will know what I mean. I can only hope that in the theatre, all may not have been as it seemed and my musical misgivings, at any rate, were entirely mis-placed. It is undoubtedly a striking production with flashes of visual magic. Otherwise it was visually diffuse. Long shots looked restless and cluttered; the denizens of this legendary world were in perpetual motion seeming ill at ease navigating their many tiered home. From time to time a close-up would reveal a point of stillness, an image of distinctive beauty but it also revealed the sort of lazy disengaged semaphore that should have been abandoned long ago as an affront to acting.

Musically it was a curate’s egg. The performance opened with intensity and passion. At times the extreme contrasts of dynamics, lavish and expressive, provided fresh insight, but the dividends were too few. Languid tempi threatened the vigour and dynamism of the drama and too often the singers were lost in an impenetrable orchestral soup.

It was difficult to judge the vocals other than the chorus who seemed on robust good form. Yusif Eyvazov was not the vocal presence he should have been from the start but by act III he was revealed to have a burnished ardent tone that occasionally lacked focus in the mid-range. The implacable Christine Goerke gamely tried to paint Turandot’s journey from prideful vengeance to acquiescence but again some of her vocal intensity sounded dissipated and there was precious little electricity between the hormonal lovers. The riddle scene was about as interesting as a drizzly Saturday in October.

Eleonora Buratto’s beautiful lyric soprano failed to melt the heart with 'Signore ascolta' and unfortunately by 'Tu che di gel sei cinta' not only had she given up the will to live but so had I. 'Ho una casa nell’Honan', that Debussyesque eulogy to happier times, seemed tentative at best, under-rehearsed a worst. James Morris, at least, looked as if he believed what he was singing. Javier Arrey and Carlo Bosi both made an impact with some incisive Italian but ultimately the whole thing left me irredeemably depressed.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

For an alternative view, see David Wolfson's review of the live performance on Bachtrack.
The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD
Saturday 12 October 2019
Turandot : Christine Goerke
Calaf : Yusif Eyvazov
Liu : Eleonora Buratto
Timur : James Morris
Ping : Alexey Lavrov
Pang : Tony Stevenson
Pong : Eduardo Valdes
Emporor Altoum : Carlo Bosi
Mandarin : Javier Arrey
Original Direction and Design : Franco Zeffirelli
Conductor : Yannick Nézet-Séguin
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus

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