John Deaderick: ‘Turandot’ to show in Grass Valley
Special to Prospector
This Saturday Sierra Cinemas presents Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” as the latest offering of The Met Opera Live in HD.
Giacomo Puccini’s final and grandest opera of his output has brilliant orchestration, glorious choral singing, and the most recognizable tenor aria of them all, “Nessun dorma.” From its opening marching chords and the chinoiserie touches – gongs, bells, wood blocks – we are immediately and relentlessly thrust into the fairy-tale China of the libretto. The libretto, based on a commedia dell’arte play by Carlo Gozzi, tells the tale of Prince Calaf, exiled and in hiding, who falls in love with the icy yet irresistible Princess Turandot. Any suitor who wishes to wed the Princess must solve a riddle, and of course, Calaf is the man for the challenge. However, the decapitated heads of Turandot’s previous unsuccessful suitors sing of their despair. But Turandot is a cheat, and that sets up the major crisis in the story.
Though act three’s “Nessun dorma,” (None shall sleep) gets all the press, “Non piangere, Liu,” (Don’t cry Liu) the aria Calaf sings to the slave girl Liu who secretly loves him, conveys a touching, romantic momentum which leads to Calaf’s aged father Timur begging him not to answer Turandot’s challenge in “Per ulitima volta” (For the last time). It’s a stunning climax to the opening act which has scarcely paused to take a breath. So much of the music in “Turandot” depicts the heightened drama one must expect from such a story. Still, not to be overlooked are the occasional delicate touches of color and light. Act two opens with the scheming court functionaries Ping, Pang, and Pong responding to Calaf’s pressing his claim by discussing whether they are to plan for a funeral or a wedding. In an abrupt change of mood, Councilor Ping sings of his country home with palpable longing, “Ho una casa nell’Honan”: “I have a house in Honan with a little pond so blue, all surrounded by bamboo …” As someone who lives in the country full time, this speaks to me. It’s a lovely moment in the opera.
Unfortunately for all of us, Puccini died before completing Turandot. After tense infighting among family and friends, composer Franco Alfano completed the score based on Puccini’s unfinished sketches. If one listens closely after the death of Liu, one can hear that the stellar score has lost some of its luster, the orchestration becoming simpler, the layers more opaque. This is the point at which Alfano’s work takes over. At the premiere, conductor Arturo Toscanini put down his baton, and refused to finish the opera. However, in future performances, he did conduct Alfano’s conclusion. Highest possible recommendation for this one: I love it!
John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.
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