miércoles, diciembre 06, 2006

"Turandot", a difficult Colón triumph

Late last year, there was a strike at the Colón; when it was fixed, the Artistic Direction saved the premiere of Strauss' "Capriccio" but had to postpone "Turandot". When Marcelo Lombardero, the Artistic Director, programmed 2006, he decided to offer the last Puccini opera after the main season at the Colón and as a compensation for the 2005 subscribers. Alas, on the second fortnight of November the Colón was already closed down because of the necessities of the Master Plan (or so we are told) and the revival had to be offered at the Luna Park. When this was announced the immense majority of oldtimers was disappointed, for it meant that the music would have to be amplified due to the horrible acoustics of that roofed stadium. But the fact remains that it's the only place big enough for a large-scale opera outside the Colón. Under the circumstances, the amazing fact is that, warts and all, "Turandot" has been a huge success.

Before I go on, two paragraphs on the work. As its epic dimensions make it unsuited to smaller venues, only the Colón has offered it in recent decades; the last time was in 1994, so the revival was certainly in order. On the one hand, critical consensus has long placed this posthumous score as Puccini's most advanced in harmonic and coloristic terms, and as the limit of the great tradition of Italian opera. There's also the vexed question of its completion by Franco Alfano, an opera composer in his own right. Before throat cancer finished his life, Puccini got as far as Liú's death. Alfano, based on confused sketches left by Puccini, wrote the final two scenes, but in two versions; Ricordi and Toscanini preferred the short one, and that's the one that prevailed, but sometimes the longer one has been done; it was premiered in Argentina by conductor Mario Perusso in 1991 at the Argentino of La Plata. Last year, then Artistic Director Tito Capobianco announced that "Turandot" would be done in two versions: with the habitual Alfano ending and with the new one concocted by Luciano Berio; but the strike and Capobianco's resignation- put an end to that worthwhile idea. So we heard at the Luna Park the "normal" Alfano ending.

The libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni , although based on the fable ("fiaba") by Carlo Gozzi (Goldoni's great rival), innovates by adding the typically Puccinian character of Liú, the slave that commits suicide for love. Gozzi based his work on old tales of a cruel Chinese Princess and added the "commedia dell'arte" masks to the brew. But it's hard to establish empathy with the protagonists: Turandot is a repressed and sadistic serial killer, and Calaf is valiant but insensate to a fault: his folly leads to Liú's death. However, Puccini's magic again works and we are conquered.

If there was no way to avoid the Luna Park, it must be admitted that Roberto Oswald made the most of a tough assignment. After a four-decade career and several "Turandots", all different, the septuagenarian producer, stage and lighting designer proves again that he has no rival in big opera shows. He cunningly took advantage of the special Luna Park architecture, with its abundant steps in the background and the great width offered by the stage : at both sides three enormous statues of soldiers modelled on the famous Xian ceramics army , at the center a big round was both the gong of fate and the place for Turandot's appearance; asymmetrical stairs permitted fluid stage movement. The mythical Chinese ambience was abetted by Oswald's longtime collaborator, costume designer Aníbal Lápiz, with one of his most brilliant jobs.

On the musical side there were three liabilities: a) the amplification. Although it was rather good in the solo voices, there were considerable blemishes in the way the sound of the orchestra and the chorus was reproduced: overloud percussion, weak chorus, marked difference from the spectator's point of view according to his seat. b) The Children's Choir was replaced by female voices due to an absurd conflict that will have to be resolved: some parents want their kids to touch a fee, when the spirit has always been that of a scholarship. c) Some leading roles were undercast.

Turandot - Teatro Colón en el Luna Park 2006 - Acto 1 - Foto Micciche

Two factors were outstanding: the conducting of Carlos Vieu and the splendid singers of Liú, Eliana Bayón and especially Paula Almerares. Vieu, in his belated debut in a Colón production, showed himself one of the best opera conductors we have: clear of mind and strong of arm, his views were communicative and convincing, with an attentive orchestra complying with his wishes. Both Bayón and Almerares were sensitive and sounded beautiful.

The Chorus was well prepared by Salvatore Caputo. Both Turandots were below standard: Cynthia Makris vibrato-ridden and Nina Warren very uneven, faults of intonation being followed by radiant top notes. Darío Volonté was involved and intense, even if some passages weren't quite solved; but Warren Mok (debut) was harsh and often crude. Fine Timurs from Ariel Cazes and Carlos Esquivel. The masks (Ping-Pang-Pong) acted and sang well: Omar Carrión/ Norberto Marcos, Enrique Folger/ Gabriel Centeno and Carlos Ullán/ Carlos Natale. Old Altoum was sung expressively in an appropriately worn voice by Oscar Grassi. And the Mandarin was sung firmly by Walter Schwarz/ Emilio Estévez.

Thirty-two thousand people attended this "Turandot". Quite a number.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald, 07/12/06

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