Pavarotti’s frequent performances of his signature aria, Nessun dorma, have made Turandot more popular than ever. The story of the conversion of an ice princess through the power of love, placed in ancient Peking, provides the essential elements for grand opera – passion, dramatic tension, an exotic locale. Puccini gifts us with one glorious aria and ensemble after another. The richness of melody and the sumptuousness of the orchestral music are the stuff that create opera fans for life.
The caveat here is the difficulty of casting the roles of Turandot and the Calaf. The challenge that these roles present to singers is extreme. When the singers are up to it, the result is thrilling; otherwise, the experience can be gloomy.
San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago joined a few years back in commissioning a spectacular production of Turandot, designed by David Hockney. This production, when the singers are right, provides that rare experience that opera buffs cherish – when the music and the performances and the stage visuals all come together to create a completely transporting theatrical experience. SFO reprised the production during its 1998 season.
As heard at the September 30 performance, the Calaf of tenor Richard Margison was a delight, his instrument, musicality, and technique fully up to the demands of the role.
As for the ladies in the leading roles, perhaps the kindest that can be said is that they did not quite spoil the brilliance of this production, though the quality of their singing kept the transporting more in Volkswagen than in Mercedes mode.