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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Turandot

Three very different casts and three runs for Puccini's final opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The executioner Pu-Tin-Pao (Left) confronts a giant Chinese dragon in the first act
of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Puccini's Turandot.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
This umpteenth revival of the Metropolitan Opera's everything-into-the-wok Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini's Turandot appears in three separate runs this season. Christine Goerke, Lise Lindstrom, Jennifer Wilson and Nina Stemme are the four formidable sopranos who will sing the hellishly difficult title role. This is one of the last surviving Zeff productions in the Met repertory along with La bohéme, and is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.

Puccini died before he could finish Turandot. In fact, the end of the third act is an abrupt and messy abbreviation of the completion by the composer Franco Alfano. The opera was a different sort of effort for him: an attempt to portray a very Italian conception of "legendary" China set to some of his most advanced and innovative music. Based on a fable by Carlo Gozzi, this is the story of the blood-thirsty Princess Turandot and her quest to avenge her ravaged ancestor by lopping off the heads of every would-be heroic tenor who seeks her hand in marriage.

Stepping up to the gong as Calaf are a trio of tenors: Marcelo Álvarez, Fabio Sartori and Marco Berti who will face the challenges of demanding top Cs and a duet (the Act II "Riddle Scene") which requires tenor and soprano to sing with all guns blazing. The third critical role is the timid slave-girl Liù, which will again be sung by a trio of fine sopranos (Hibla Gerzmava, Leah Crocetto and Anna Hartig) appearing in the September, October and January runs.

Turandot opens Sept. 23. It is the first opera of the generale or regular season at the Met. The performance on Jan. 30, 2016 will be filmed as broadcast as part of this year's Met Live in HD broadcast schedule.

Recording Recommendations:
Turandot is widely recorded. Here are two very different classics.
Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of St. Cecilia, Rome cond. Erich Leinsdorf
Turandot: Birgit Nilsson
Calaf: Jussi Björling
Líu: Renata Tebaldi
Here it is, folks--the battle of Sweden. Jussi Björling and Birgit Nilsson square off in the Riddle scene in a sing-off for the ages. This is one of Nilsson's two Turandot recordings. The other, on EMI with Franco Corelli as the Unknown Prince, has even more testosterone.

London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Zubin Mehta (Decca. 1972)
Turandot: Joan Sutherland
Calaf: Luciano Pavarotti
Líu: Montserrat Caballe
Luciano Pavarotti made "Nessun dorma" a trademark in his later years, even going so far as to lip-sync the aria at the opening of the 2004 Olympics in Turin. On this 1972 recording, hear why he was a great Calaf, with a full, rich register and a sweet tone that could melt the heart of any Chinese princess. La Stupenda (that's Dame Joan Sutherland to you non-opera geeks) lives up to her name, producing a studio performance of grace and power in the title role.

Tickets for Turandot are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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