At the Circus, with Puccini and La Fura dels Baus

GermanyGermany G. Puccini, Turandot: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra & Chorus, Dan Ettinger (conductor), 26.7.2012 (JMI)

Production: Bavarian State Opera

Direction: Carlus Padrissa – La Fura dels Baus
Sets: Roland Olbeter
Costumes: Chu Uroz
Lighting: Urs Schönebaum
Videos: Franc Aleu


Turandot: Jennifer Wilson
Calaf. Marco Berti
Liú: Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Timur: Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Ping: Fabio Previati
Pang: Kevin Conners
Pong: Emanuele D’Aguanno
Mandarin: Levente Molnar
Altoum: Ulrich Ress

Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

Munich’s Turandot, a product of La Fura dels Baus and directed by Carlus Padrissa, premiered last November. It’s a superficial production that seems only concerned with itself becoming the star of the show.

A stage production in opera must be at the service of libretto and score. The better it is, the greater the degree of freedom it has for doing that, but one has to leave the theater understanding what the guiding idea of the direction was and what—if anything—its director tried to say. There is none of that in this production of Turandot. Bettina Mara wrote in these pages (her S&H review here) that Carlus Padrissa talks in the program notes about his idea of China having taken over Europe, after buying all the old continent’s debt, and Turandot is the ruler in Europe. Think about that what you will, but I assure you that it has nothing to do with what could be seen on stage.

The production is sheer and permanent excess. Everything moves and nothing ever stops, except the singers; skaters zoom about in perpetual motion. When it’s not skaters, it’s troupes of dancers, or extras hung from the ceiling, or stagehands putting safety cables to their colleagues, or endless video projections, for the supposed enjoyment of which you are supposed to wear plastic glasses handed out to the audience. Ironically, they neither lend more depth, much less another dimension to the production, except in the most shallow, literal sense. What they do add, on top of all the movement on stage, is the noise of an audience, rustling in search for glasses.

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Perhaps the fault is mine, but I certainly found nothing in the whole production, but the desire for prominence on the part of La Fura. It felt vaguely like a visit to the circus with Puccini being played in the background. La Fura went for the original version of Turandot, as premiered at La Scala in 1926, which means dispensing with the Alfano-ending of the opera and, so La Fura decided, having Turandot help Timur, after Liu’s death.

What a relief it should have been, if the musical direction had made up for whatever was going on above the pit. Alas, Dan Ettinger did not, with a reading that was mostly flat and noisy, except for the music following the death of Liu. Zubin Mehta, who directed the premiere, he ain’t.

American soprano Jennifer Wilson headed the cast kin the titular role. She’s not as  interesting a singer as she was just a few years ago. Her top notes, if too metallic, are very good but the middle range has lost volume and her lower register is largely inaudible. Marco Berti’s repeat performance of Calaf found him at his usual fine level, except I had never heard him so tight at the top as on this occasion. Nessun dorma went almost unnoticed and he struggled with the high C in the second act.

Russian soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko disappointed as Liù. If I say disappointing, it’s because I think she is one of the most promising young sopranos today, with a beautiful voice and a good technique. Her voice is just one size too small for Liu, and occasional pitch problems were accentuated in her final aria Tu che di gel sei cinta. Then again, having to sing the aria on a platform 20 meters above the stage isn’t not the easiest way to do it.

Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk left a good impression as Timur and Levente Molnar was a superb, luxuriously cast Mandarin.

José Mª Irurzun

Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl