‘Turandot’ explores love, mystery, marriage
Before the first actor for Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra’s new production of “Turandot” could even be cast, director Amber Jo Manuel had a few months worth of homework to complete.
Manuel’s self-imposed homework occurred because she wasn’t satisfied with the English translated scripts of Italian Carlo Gozzi’s 1762 play.
“It was a lot of work because it’s hard to find a good translation perfect for the stage,” Manuel admitted Monday. “So many people when they translate are true to the words they’re translating but the words in English lose meaning and don’t always make sense.”
Plus the more Manuel researched the 14th century fairy tale, the more enchanted she became with including components of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” which premiered 164 years after Gozzi’s work. “Research was the funnest part of directing. The more things you research and see how they might add inspiration to your piece, the better,” Manuel said.
So for several months this year, Manuel studiously highlighted passages from both Gozzi’s and Puccini’s stories as she read both works repeatedly. The result is her own adaptation of “Turandot,” which will be presented at the Nevada Theatre tonight through Feb. 7. She also incorporated a few lines from the German and Italian versions of Gozzi’s words translated by CATS board member Eric Tome.
“Gozzi’s play was a 18th-century comedy, slapstick. Puccini added more heart. Puccini gave me more depth,” Manuel explained. “What I’ve done is tweak Gozzi’s play with some of the things I liked from Puccini’s adaptation such as adding and adjusting his characters and adding two opera songs.”
Those characters include Turandot’s deceased suitors who speak lines from the opera and a more loving Adelma, who in Gozzi’s play was more mean-spirited.
After finishing the “Turandot” script adaptation, Manuel still had extra work to complete after the 28 actors were cast.
She had to teach the mostly amateur actors about Chinese acting styles and commedia dell’arte (Italian comedy).
“This play was hard. No one has been trained in Chinese opera acting elements or commedia dell’arte so it was like starting from scratch,” Manuel explained. “Chinese opera is harder to grasp; it uses rounded gestures, patterns of movement like walking in circles and curves. Commedia dell’arte is a form of improvisational comedy based on stock characters from the 16th and 17th centuries still present today.”
Actor-director John Deaderick, who has directed other CATS plays, assisted by giving basic commedia dell’arte training to the actors and consulting with Manuel throughout the rehearsal process.
Deaderick also created the play’s soundtrack comprised of Italian and Chinese opera songs.
With all the challenges that “Turandot” presented to Manuel before and during rehearsals, she downplayed those challenges Tuesday.
“Now that we’re in the space on the stage, it really works,” she said. “This play is very easy for the audience to understand, it’s a comedy, it’s funny, it’s very entertaining and fast-paced.”
KNOW AND GO:
WHEN: Previews tonight at 8 p.m. and shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Feb. 7. Also 2 p.m. matinees Jan. 24 and 31.
WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City
ADMISSION: $14 in advance and $16 at the door. Advance tickets at Odyssey Books, Nevada City Postal Company & Golden Flower or at http:// http://www.presaleticketing.com. Tonight’s tickets are $7 at the door; the box office opens at 7 p.m.
Harsh edict for suitors
Many suitors of beautiful Princess Turandot in Peking, China have lost their heads due to a harsh public edict by the princess: “Anyone seeking my hand in marriage must solve three riddles or die!”
Turandot issued that edict to remain unmarried; she wants to retain her freedom as she believes that men are capable of great atrocities such as war, that men are untrustworthy and that they skip from women to women once they’re married.
Her father, the king, wants Turandot married, however, so that he will one day be succeeded; the townspeople also want her married so that they won’t have to go to war each time a foreign prince is executed.
As suitors are continuously executed for their inability to answer the riddles, Turandot doesn’t have to consider marriage for several years, that is, until Prince Calaf visits the palace with the correct answers.
After Turandot says she will die at the altar rather than marry Calaf, he gives her a challenge: “find my real name by the morning and you don’t have to marry me.” Jumping at the challenge, Turandot bribes and tortures servants, townspeople and soldiers to find Calaf’s real name.
After discovering that name and announcing it in the council hall, Turandot is unprepared by the next stream of events, which includes attempted suicides and discovered truths.
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