(photo credit Marty Sohl)
How do you take a (literally) creaky, tarnished, 22-year-old, scene-stealing Zeffirelli production of Turandot and make it about the main character again? Bring in a princess that literally shakes the dust from the rafters, vibrates the windows, and cracks the foundation. Tuesday night's Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera was a stunner, the riveting voice of a Princess unhinged via Lise Lindstrom's powerfully precise soprano, which rose and blossomed over conductor Andris Nelsons's interpretation (or lack thereof) Puccini's last opera.Based on Carlo Gozzi's 1762 play Turandotte about the daughter of the Chinese Emperor, Puccini's opera had its world premiere two years after the Italian maestro died in 1924, the opera unfinished. Franco Alfano picked up the ink where Puccini left off, scribbling the final duet and scene, notoriously revised by Toscanini. Turandot calls for a cruel and unwavering princess, who will only marry a royal suitor provided that he can answer three riddles set forth. If the suitors cannot answer correctly, the princess calls for beheading which will avenge her ancestors. Prince Calaf, despite the fact taht 26 potential lovers have suffered gory deaths is struck by Turandot's beauty (although dissuaded by Ping/Pang/Pong) and rises to the challenge. He even one-ups her, proposing a riddle to which the answer is, of course, Amore.
All the glitz and epic glamor of Frengo's over-the-top, 1987 Asian panorama remains, although the well-loved, claustrophobic sets sagged and groaned with the weight of its teeming extras. And as if the gold sets and glittering costumes weren't enough, sparkling confetti rained down at various intervals, a Golden Age of Hollywood epic love-letter at times bordering on ridiculous -- although the audience didn't care, breaking-out into spontaneous applause frequently at Frengo's incantations.who two weeks ago bravely stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam despite 1.5 hours notice to cover Russian soprano Maria Guleghina's bronchial lungs during the October 28 premiere. Not that the soprano had anything to sweat, having already locked-down the same role recently at the Deutsche Oper, Cleveland Opera, Savonlinna and La Coruña.
Ms. Lindstrom exited her Metropolitan Opera debut to rave reviews, while her endearing excitement at the final curtain call melted the hearts of even the most jaded journalists. Lindstrom was the ice that sets you on fire! Confident and effortless, her huge voice rang through the cavernous MET, her succinct Italian pronunciation soaring easily over the orchestra. The tall, willowy soprano looked every inch the part, gracefully weaving her way across Frengo's obstacle courses in slippers. Lise captured the perfect balance of vulnerability and ruthless strength with a voice that brought Puccini-induced rapture at the caress of each soprano-killing note.
The rest of the cast performed well, considering that they had already put much stock in this past Saturday, November 7 matinée which was transmitted worldwide for The Met's Live in HD series (this broadcast-heavy opera will have a total of 6 live broadcasts before it finishes its Fall run on November 21 and then revives itself for the entire month of January). Sicilian tenor Marcello Giordani as Calàf gave a (surprise, surprise) uneven performance, where his pitch fluctuated at whim from sharp to flat, perplexedly wild. When he was on point, he showed-off a lovely color with lots of meaty interpretation. Nessun Dorma was thoughtful and thorough. Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya's Liù was tender and delicate, a role which she sang with much beauty and emotion. The contrast between Poplavskaya's Liù and Lindstrom's Turandot was striking, a wonderful antithesis shared between the two singers. Bass Samuel Ramey's Timur was dignified and stern with a lingering introspection that worked to his advantage.
Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons made his Metropolitan Opera debut, a former trumpeter for the Latvian National Opera Orchestra. An oddly nasal, impersonal conducting gave way to syrupy, lethargic introspect when the score called for depth. We prefer Karajan's punctuated, stern version. The interaction between the orchestra and the chorus was a hot mess, many times gargling over Puccini's glowing, ethereal glissandi.
But with this distractingly gold-plated, bejeweled spectacle of dizzying Zeffirelli proportions, no one's really listening to the music, are they?