Turandot: The Deutsche Oper’s Aggrandizement

Turandot: the lusciousness of Puccini with a morbid end. Turandot is an opera that at once delights the ears but leaves one questioning the human conscience. Who goes to the opera to feel that human nature is lost? Even the most heartbreaking operas leave one with the slender hope that the goodness in human nature will prevail. Turandot, unfortunately, does no such thing. The repugnance of both lead characters, the princess Turandot and the prince Calaf is immortalized in any rendition of the opera as the two unite in what is surely carnal bliss as the curtain falls. However, true to German fashion, the Turandot of Deutsche Oper’s 2015/2016 season choice of staging drives the cruel dagger of desolation even deeper. If the audience was attempting to disillusion themselves into believing that true love would somehow absolve the narcissistic lovers, the final moments of the opera dashes those hopes to bits.

True, the Chinese themes are seductively performed; true, the thickly layered orchestra draws in even the least-appreciative of listeners; true, the fragile but enduring heroine, Liù, is hallowed; and true, the Princess Turandot ekes out a bit of sympathy from the empathetic listener. However, one leaves the opera convinced that greed and narcissism are what prevails in life. Puccini’s unforseen death before the completion of the opera means that we will never know if he intended to add a final twist, as could be hoped. Franco Alfano, commissioned to finish the score, did justice to the music with a grand chorus at the end. In the Deutsche Oper’s rendition, however, this grandiosity is unforgivably sung off stage, robbing the viewer of the final moments of auditory pleasure in the opera.

Certainly Turandot, as played by Catherine Foster, displays soaring vocals that swell as demanded by the situation, and despite some unfortunate costume choices, she skillfully portrays the ruthless beauty as demanded by the role. As well, Elena Tsallagova portrays the tender Liù with grace and beauty. Especially during “Tu che di gel sei cinta,” her full but delicate soprano fills the hall with emotion. Unfortunately, Stefano La Colla did not do the role of Calaf justice, and his “Nessun Dorma” not only displayed wandering pitch, but his body language portrayed the uncertainty he must have been feeling. The performances of Ping, Pang and Pong were as rousing as those of Altoum and Timur were sincere. The orchestra played exquisitely, following the dynamics with laser precision, transmitting an oriental aura with haunting accuracy.

The staging is awkward, although powerful. Performers are forced to step downwards from the apron as they head upstage, which means that their ankles are often concealed from view. From a distance it is difficult to distinguish the drop and at least half the audience members certainly must focus on trying to discern the confusing situation. However, notwithstanding the awkwardness of the set, it adequately portrays a country trapped in a pit of despair by a bleak regime.

Despite some flaws in its presentation, the Deutsche Oper effectively drives home one point: a government that will tolerate such obscene behavior as portrayed by Turandot, will assuredly allow other atrocities to occur. It is a fertile breeding ground of terror. Stage director, Lorenzo Fioroni ensures the delivery of this message with his staging decisions at the end of the opera. The murders of both fathers at the hands of their respective children, accompanied by the subsequent marriage of the guiltless progeny, seal the message that one evil always begets more evil. Performances run through 27 November.

Giacomo Puccini Turandot
Director Lorenzo Fioroni
Stage Design Paul Zoller
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Images © 2015, Bettina Stöß

By Sasha Prince
Sasha is a classical singer and animal lover and has been in Berlin since 2014. She is from the US and the place she lived the longest is Austin, Texas.

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