Anna Pirozzi’s Turandot and Nicola Luisotti’s conducting excel in Teatro Real’s multiple casts

SpainSpain Puccini, Turandot: Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 15, 16 and 17.7.2023. (JMI)

Anna Pirozzi (Turandot) © J. del Real

Director, Sets, Costumes, Lighting – Robert Wilson

Turandot – Anna Pirozzi / Saioa Hernández / Maribel Ortega
Calaf – Jorge de León / Michael Fabiano / Martin Muehle
Liù – Salome Jicia / Ruth Iniesta / Miren Urbieta-Vega
Timur – Adam Palka / Liang Li / Fernando Radó
Emperor Altoum – Vicenç Esteve
Ping – Germán Olvera
Pang – Moisés Marín
Pong – Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Mandarin – Gerardo Bullón

This popular, unfinished Puccini opera has returned to the Teatro Real, where it had been staged on several earlier occasions, most recently in December 2018 (click here for my previous review). It is a co-production with Toronto Opera, Vilnius Opera, Houston Opera, Paris Opera.

I am sure there are many aficionados who are familiar with Robert Wilson’s originality, but it must be said that this originality draws one’s attention when his productions have not been seen before: all of them are practically the same, and the originality becomes pure routine. Time and again we are at a show where the sets are almost non-existent, the characters appear with their faces painted and their movements are like automatons in slow motion. To a large extent, it is an opera in concert, where stage interpretations by the singers simply do not exist.

Teatro Real’s Turandot © J. del Real

In Turandot, Wilson is responsible for the minimalist, almost nihilistic, set design as well as the costumes and the lighting, which has notable importance in his productions. Turandot is dressed in red, and the others all wear light tones. The direction draws one’s attention to Ping, Pang and Pong, whose continuous jumps on stage became tiresome, at least for me.

Once again, the musical direction was entrusted to Nicola Luisotti. Five years ago his conducting seemed brilliant, and here even more so, especially in Act III. His reading is worthy of being highlighted as one of the best I have attended. Under his baton, the Teatro Real orchestra was perfect, as was the chorus.

The role of Turandot in the first cast was sung by soprano Anna Pirozzi, who is perfectly suited to the character. She is a dramatic soprano, with an attractive voice – it is difficult today to name a soprano who is as impressive in this role. Pirozzi has become the fashionable soprano for these dramatic characters in Italian opera, and I hope we will continue to see her for years to come .

Leading the second cast was Saioa Hernández, who has risen to stardom in recent times. I don’t remember her singing the role before, and I did not find her soprano suited to its demands. The part requires an authentic dramatic soprano with great vocal power, and Hernández is not there now. She did not do badly, but her voice doesn’t seem right for Turandot.

In the third cast, Turandot was to have been sung by Elena Pankratova, but she canceled a few weeks ago, and soprano Ewa Plonka was to replace her. In fact, when we arrived at the Teatro Real, we found out that Turandot would be Maribel Ortega, due to Plonka’s health problems.

Ortega saved the performance. Her voice has amplitude, although it cannot be highlighted for beauty, but her biggest problem is that the low notes are almost inaudible. I will not say that she is a Turandot to be programmed by a major theater, but as a last-minute substitution, she was just fine.

Calaf was played in the first cast by tenor Jorge de León whose voice has enough amplitude and brightness. But he is not a paragon of elegance in his singing: his biggest problem is the wide vibrato that has appeared in his voice in recent months. His ‘Nessun dorma’ was brilliant and drew ovations from the audience, although they didn’t last long – Luisotti chose not to stop the orchestra, as often happens in this opera.

The second Calaf was tenor Michael Fabiano. His voice is attractive in the middle range, but I have never been moved by his singing. He is constricted in the upper zone and was very tight in ‘Nessun dorma’. The third Calaf was Martin Muehle, and his performance was not convincing. It is true that there was a warning of indisposition at the intermission, but in the first part it seemed to me that his middle range was badly projected though it improved in the high notes. His third act, after the warning, resulted in a ‘Nessun dorma’ that would have been booed in other circumstances.

Liù was to have been sung by Nadine Sierra, who was one of the great attractions of these performances. Unfortunately, she canceled some time ago, and her replacement was Salome Jicia, whom I was seeing for the first time. Her performance was correct – she sings well but her voice is somewhat restricted at the top and lacks emotion. The next Liù was Ruth Iniesta, who gave a fine performance, singing her two plaintive arias with gusto. It is often said that Liù is the winner in Turandot, and Iniesta did not have a difficult time achieving that here. Soprano Miren Urbieta-Vega with her well-suited voice was good in the part, and superior to Salome Jicia.

Bass Adam Palka as Timur was all right though not extraordinary. Liang Li was the best of the three in the role, and Fernando Radó was correct.

In the secondary roles, Vicenç Esteve was Emperor Altoum and did well. The three masks play quite an important role in this production, and they too were good: German Olvera (Ping), Moisés Marín (Pang) and the always excellent Mikeldi Atxalandabaso (Pong). Gerardo Bullón’s Mandarin was fine.

José M. Irurzun

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