- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Washington National Opera’s colorful production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” is a fantastic way for the company to end its season at the Kennedy Center. It truly puts the “grand” back in grand opera.

Known for his slice-of-life verismo style, Puccini went off the beaten path in “Turandot,” setting to music the story of a mythical Chinese princess who’s secretly starved for love. But she’s deeply afraid of it and the subservience she thinks it will bring. So, like an early gender feminist, she exorcises her inner demons by decapitating every suitor who attempts to win her hand.

Puccini’s music is appropriately dark, loaded with ominous but colorful percussion. It’s highlighted by the famous tenor aria (“Nessun dorma”) sung by Turandot’s suitor Calaf before the third act’s chaos gets under way.

WNO’s production, directed by Andrei Serban, features the visually spectacular sets, props and costuming created for London’s Royal Opera House 25 years ago, re-imagining “Turandot” as a amalgam of Kabuki theater and Italian commedia dell’arte. The resulting morality tale parallels the showy, shallow love of Turandot and Calaf with the genuine love and devotion of the servant Liu, who sacrifices herself for Calaf and his father, Timur.

Tuesday’s performance found star soprano Maria Guleghina at the top of her form as Turandot. Her huge voice projected authority and terror, though at times it sounded somewhat strained. As Calaf, tenor Dario Volonte was vigorous and affecting. His “Nessun dorma,” however, came across as somewhat workmanlike, well sung but not going for the gold.



The surprise hits of the evening were bass Morris Robinson as Timur and soprano Sabina Cvilak as the hapless Liu. Mr. Robinson’s booming but well-articulated bass should plant him firmly in the Wagnerian firmament, where, indeed, he has ventured already. Miss Cvilak’s solo moments unveiled an emotionally complex instrument capable of integrating tone, mood and character in a nearly magical way.

The remaining cast members were all quite capable, with Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist baritone Nathan Herfindahl notable in the role of Ping, one of Puccini’s Chinese Three Stooges, who appear periodically to lighten the somber mood.

The orchestral sound was sumptuous and genuinely exotic under the baton of Keri-Lynn Wilson. However, conductor and chorus lost track of each other with some frequency in the first and second stanzas, and the orchestra occasionally washed the soloists out of the action.

Note: WNO has added a concert performance of “Turandot” at 7:30 p.m. June 2 in Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House.

WHAT: Puccini’s “Turandot”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Wednesday and June 4; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7 p.m. May 30 and June 1

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $45 to $300

PHONE: 202/295-2400

INFORMATION: www.dc- opera.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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