Puccini, Turandot

Puccini’Turandot tonight on the Bolshoi New Stage (the one they are performing on during the botched renovation of their opera house across the street).

Conductor Gintaras Rinkevičius got an excellent tone out of the orchestra, particularly the winds and percussion, setting a great mood with the music. He took the first act more slowly than usual and painted a canvas. Unfortunately, he generally overpowered the singers, who had to work very hard to project over the orchestra (the chorus was not even always audible if it sang from the back of the stage).

The staging was a peculiar blend of costumes and sets which mixed influences from about 3,000 or 4,000 years of the Silk Route – I would swear there were ancient Babylonian statues and characters dressed in Maoist pyjamas. In general, though, the sets and costumes could be ignored. There were a couple of head-scratchers, though: for example, in the second act, Ping, Pang, and Pong, who are supposed to be court ministers, have been given rags to scrub down the palace walls, all the while trying to avoid getting run over by enormous statues (which might have been Babylonian gods, for all I could tell) that migrated around the stage (and occasionally opened to allow Ping, Pang, or Pong to hop inside and change their clothes, presumably because their fancy outfits were getting covered in paint scrubbed from the walls). Throughout, the three ministers actually sang with very pleasant voices (or at least what could be heard above the orchestra).

Another head-scratcher was the “appearance” of Turandot in the first act. She was carried on stage inside a large golden litter. At least I assume she was inside, since the litter was not transparent and had no windows, so she was not visible. It would seem that Calaf fell in love at first sight not with Turandot but rather with a large gold box. That is probably just as well, since when Turandot did appear in the second and third acts, no matter what mock-Chinese outfit they dressed her up in, they could not disguise the fact that she had the shape and the skin complexion of a very large potato, and only a famished Irishman could fall in love at first sight with such a spud. As Turandot, Yelena Zelenskaya was the only singer who could consistently project over the orchestra. This was unfortunate, since she also sang like a very large potato being boiled in hot water.

Roman Muravitsky, as Calaf, acted very well, but some of his notes cracked and he forgot his lines a couple of times (at least he is proficient enough in Italian to ad-lib sensibly).  Lolitta Semenina, as Liù, was not quite as good at acting, but was better at singing. However, by far the best performance of the night was by Otar Kunchulia (a Georgian), who was making his Bolshoi debut as Timur. He provided a noble portrayal of the deposed Tatar king – often this role is (with logic) portrayed as a tired old man. Here, he may have lost his eyes but he never lost his dignity.

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