Turandot--Orlando Opera


Friday night we went out to see the last opera of the season. This year it was Turandot. (For anyone curious that is pronounced pretty much as spelled in english--Tur-ahn-dot.) And it was magnificent. Orlando Opera company had gone all out to make certain that this 50th season closer would be a set of performances to remember, and they handily accomplished the goal. The sets, costumes, and staging were all spot-on, the orchestral unusually fine under the baton of Anton Coppola, and the singing by both hired talent and the company professionals, top-notch.

The story of the Opera is pretty repellent and ridiculous, and had me half alienated to start with--but as it played out, I was won over--which speaks to the power of Puccini's music.

The Opera is in Three Acts and starts abruptly, without an overture. I speculated that this may have been because Puccini never finished the Opera--it is his last and the music he composed for it ends somewhere in the third act. I speculate and suggest that Overtures may be among the last pieces composed for an Opera, requiring, as they do, a full range of the ideas in the remainder of the music. However, that is speculation.

What is not speculation is that while this is Puccini, it is Puccini in 1922 or so, and it reflects some of what was going on in music through the early twentieth century. There is some discordant and dissonant scoring, largely masked by the fact that the Opera takes place in China and Chinese harmonics are evident throughout the score.

Unlike Madama Butterfly, which to my mind had a single powerful, gorgeous, memorable aria--the music throughout this Opera has several memorable themes, not the least of which occurs in act three when Calaf, the hero, sings what for lack of a better analogy might be called his "Rumpelstiltskin" aria. Turandot, the Princess, is busy torturing and threatening the people of Peking to find our heroes name so that she will not have to marry him in the morning. While the people and Ping, Pang, and Pong (somewhat comic relief characters) plead with him for the sake of all to reveal it, he sings a powerful and memorable aria, which even the most casual classical listener is probably familiar with--"Nessun Dorma." (For better insights into the libretto and the meaning of all the weird goings-on, you might check out this site wherein I found the lyrics to the aria.

The performance of this aria with chorus caused a collective peril of anoxia in the audience--not a sound, not a rustle, nothing--still, quiet, attentive, rapt. And, of course, that was the intent of the composer. Probably the most magnificent of all of his Arias, in what is undoubtedly the capstone (both literally and metaphorically) of his career in Opera.

I had gone ready to hate it, from the story, from my previous Puccini experience, from the fact that I could just barely keep my eyes open. And I came away wanting to have a copy of this Opera so that I could listen to it regularly.

If anyone from the company happens to read this, Bravo and Brava. Magnifico.

Later: Our Local newspaper's review with film clips including Nessun Dorma.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 6, 2008 7:59 AM.

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