Sweden Giacomo Puccini, Turandot:Soloists, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra and Chorus, extra chorus and children’s chorus, Finn Rosengren (conductor 12.01.2013), Tobias Ringborg (conductor 26.01.2013), GöteborgsOperan, 12.01.2013 and 26.01.2013 (NS)
Turandot: Francesca Patanè
Emperor Altoum: Ingemar Andersson
Timur: Mats Almgren
Calaf: Tomas Lind
Liù: Charlotta Larsson
Ping: Markus Schwartz
Pang: Mattias Ermedahl
Pong: Glenn Kjellberg
A Mandarin: Sven Törnell
The Prince of Persia: Fredrik Gustafsson
Two sopranos: Liselott Johansson, Zorka Hunjak
Maestro (Puccini): Torgny Sporsén
Director: Vladimír Morávek
Set design: Martin Chocholousek
Costume design: Sylva Zimula Hanáková
Lighting: Torkel Blomkvist
Movement instructor: Harri Heikkinen
With the last performance of this production of Turandot on 26 January the curtain has come down on possibly the most visually magnificent (and most expensive) production put on by the Gothenburg Opera. Having missed its first run in 2006 I was very glad to have seen the production twice this time. The Czech production team and mainly Swedish cast have achieved a truly memorable production that will be difficult to match in the future.
Turandot’s role was stunningly filled by Francesca Patanè, a leading Italian soprano who has previously sung Lady Macbeth and Odabella in Verdi’s Attila at the Gothenburg Opera. While clearer enunciation would have been nice Ms Patanè captured the essence of Turandot’s character, her voice vibrating with rage in “In questa reggia” as she recounted the violation of her ancestor, the reason for her cruelty towards the men who would marry her. There was also warmth and vulnerability in her admission of feelings to Calaf in Act 3. Somehow she managed to make Turandot’s cruelty understandable – though not sympathetic – and so made a more believable discovery of love for a truly joyous final scene.
Calaf, on the other hand, is a role no one can make sense of. His instant fascination with Turandot is the least believable part of the opera’s plot (how many people fall in love with an executioner at first sight?). Tomas Lind carried off his demanding part with great vocal confidence and gripping acting. Despite his unthinking willingness to risk the lives of his father and Liù he did show a genuine affection to both of them – “Non piangere, Liù” was sung so movingly that Calaf for a moment threatened Liù as the opera’s chief tear-jerker. On the other end of the dramatic spectrum, Mr Lind was superb in the set-piece scenes and made “Nessun dorma” sound rather easier than it actually is.
Charlotta Larsson’s Liù was gripping whenever she was on stage. Her singing was beautiful and had pathos without tipping into mawkishness; indeed Ms Larsson carefully saved her most emotional singing to the final line before Liù ends her life in order to save Calaf’s. Mats Almgren’s Timur was also tremendously moving; Mr Almgren’s mellow bass was a perfect fit to his blind but dignified character. Ingemar Andersson was an engaging Emperor, very effectively expressing the character’s weariness.
The sometimes ridiculous trio of Ping, Pang and Pong were given their dignity back by Markus Schwartz, Mattias Ermedahl and Glenn Kjellberg. While still funny they managed a fine balance between genuine distaste for the never-ending beheadings of Turandot’s wooers and the cynicism of men who are after all “ministers to an executioner” and know on which side their bread is buttered. Mr Schwartz in particular stood out with a cultivated elegance which he very effectively replaced with zeal to torture the Prince’s name out of Liù.
Besides a uniformly strong cast the production enjoyed excellent direction from Vladimír Morávek, who deftly moved the huge numbers of performers (up to 200 of them) around the stage and created stunning set-piece scenes. Martin Chocholousek’s fairly simple and spare set provided a muted backdrop for Sylva Zimula Hanáková’s stunningly sumptuous costumes. As a whole the production combined visual and musical impact to great effect.
Special praise must go to the expanded chorus and, in particular, the children’s chorus, who carried out a demanding performance with not even a stumble. The orchestra performed with great commitment and colour under both Finn Rosengren and Tobias Ringborg, though with perhaps more of a sense of line and development through the opera under Mr Rosengren’s baton. All in all, a production that will be missed but that will also remain a cherished memory for its sell-out audiences.