“Turandot “at the Bregenz Festival
By Opera Views. Fotos by Bregenz Festival
This year’s Summer Opera Festival in Austrian town Bregenz presented a varied and hugely attended anniversary season. Located at the picturesque site of the Constance Lake, the festival acts as a junction point for the opera lovers from neighbouring countries and vast national and international audience. Highlighting G. Puccini’s´ last opera “Turandot” in its renewal of the 2014/2015 seasons production, organisers of the festival presented an opulent, lavishly lightened show, with impressive video projections and the one, that perfectly blends into the surrounding landscape.
Each night, about 7000 listeners, equipped with blankets and rain ponchos were carried away by beautiful scenery, great music, and imposing stage settings. Remaining seated even during a small rain, something that also happened on this evening, they enjoyed a majestic show with acrobats, fire artists, a vast number of extras involved in martial fighters´ scenes and great singing.
Set directly in the lake and supported by 200 terracotta warrior figures, the stage is divided into three sections. Chinese Great Wall at the back with two massive towers at the both sides; a big, round, revolving stage with a large disk in the middle; And small, a private room at the front. The big stage is used as a revolutionary as well as festivity square and as a macabre underground library, where Ping, Pang, and Pong preserve the chopped heads in the glass jars. The large disc is lifted up, effectively servíng as a surface for impressive video and light projections (Aron Kitzig and David Cunnigham).
Marco Arturo Morelli, the stage director, and designer confronts us with two entirely different, but similar worlds: One of a lonely, sick, dying men and the other of a sick society full of lonely, soul-dead humans. This lonely man is Puccini itself. Restless and sleepless he is feverishly trying to compose. With no inspiration left, he interferes with the story, becoming the unknown Prince Calaf. Morellis´ idea of the double Puccini-Calaf figure is a great achievement of this production and casts a deep philosophical and symbolic light at Puccini’s´ personal life and work.
Story and Singers
To ensure the continuation of the dynasty, the beautiful Princess Turandot must marry. Not inclining to do so, she refers to the tragic story of Princess Lo-ruling, who was abducted, brutally abused and killed by a man. To escape Lo-ruling’s fate, she requires all potential marriage candidates to solve three riddles. An unfortunate loser is then executed, and their headless body is thrown into the water from one of the towers.
Confronted and frenetically celebrated by the grim, masked crowd of walking dead, zombie-like creatures, (choreography Arthur Braun), the old Emperor Altoum in a wheelchair (convincing is his portrayal Manuel von Senden) has enough of his daughters´ cruelty. To end the streams of blood in his palace, he forces her to stop the murderous quest. Hence he is not enthusiastic about some unknown young men, who declare to enter the brutal competition.
Prince Calaf, reunited with his lost father, King Timur (Gianluca Buratto with warm sounding bass) who is accompanied by the slave girl Liù, is distracted by the appearance of mysterious Princess Turandot in the floating by vessel. Charmed by her sent, Calaf falls in love with her and seals his destiny by deciding to enter the dangerous marriage contest, which he as the only one wins.
Riccardo Massi as Prince Calaf gives an impressive performance musically. A tall man, with commanding appearance and beautiful voice, the tenor possesses Italianita in the sound, solid high notes, beautiful Legati and great Puccini lines. His “Nessun Dorma”, calm in tempo, thoughtful in the mood and with bombastic last “Vincero” marks a musical highlight of this evening. However, as the double Puccini-Calaf figure, he often remained static, which proves to be a disadvantage against his vocal performance. Morellis´ idea to draw parallels between the characters of Calaf and Puccini could have characteristically and from the acting endured more contour.
Associated with melancholic, full of passion melodies that, once heard, will never be forgotten, Puccini created the whole series of loveable, strong heroines, whose stories never leave one unmoved. In “Turandot” we are presented with not one, but with two female characters, who couldn´t differ more: The Princess Turandot and the slave Liù.
The interpretation of the role of Turandot in this production raises uncertainty. We do not exactly know whether we should feel compassion for or despise her. The Turandot by soprano Erika Sunnegårdh is not a static opera diva, but a lonely, nervous, restless, fragile and sad woman, who has a great fear of love. Thus soprano gives a corresponding vocal portrayal of this unfortunate Princess. Nervous, restless in movements, she sings with edgy high notes and leaves us with the wish for more legato and great Puccini lines. An excellent actress, she considerably increases her vocal powers and gives a convincing performance in the final scene.
Her female counterpart, the slave Liù was the best-portrayed character. Marjukka Tepponen presents the round, well-balanced, full-bodied soprano. Initially equipped with the slight vibrato, she convinced through her clear acting and expressive singing. Besides “Nessun Dorma”, her last two arias build another musical highlight of the evening. The remaining three buffo characters, Ping, Pang, and Pong sang by tenors Matija Meié, Taylan Reinhard, and bass Grigory Shkarupa (also in the role of the Mandarin) provided a lively, sometimes satirical, philosophical acting, supported by pleasant voices and captivating acting.
To judge the vocal performance under the circumstances of an open-air production can be difficult and should be done with caution, since singers´ voices have to pass through the acoustic filters, thus dealing with possible timbre and vocal endurance challenges. Maestro Giuseppe Finzi however, achieved a significant impact musically. Hidden from the audience, only perceived through large screens and speaker boxes, the Vienna Sinfonie Orchestra and the choirs of Prague Philharmonic and Bregenz festival choir (Luka´s Vasilek, Benjamin Lack) gave a memorable performance of the well-balanced, excellent sound and technical coordination (Gernot Gögele and Alwin Bösch). Particularly in both “Riddle” and “Love” duets Finzi underlined Puccini’s´ gift as a brilliant singer-composer by supporting both principal singers and by giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their vocal abilities, their technical skills, and endurance.
At the end of the opera, we witness a transformation of Turandot from cold-blooded Princess to an upright loving woman. Accepting her defeat, she and Calaf, step out of this tragic story as the only winners. On the front stage, we see Puccini-Calaf who, sitting in his barren room with his hands tied. Powerless, he looks at the laying on the bed, dead Liù who just sacrificed herself for Calaf. Facing death and watching the bombastic fireworks and celebration show taking place behind him, this powerful image symbolises the impact of the great artist and the art that will survive its creator for all times. Thus we are dismissed with the feeling of gratitude towards this great composer, who, for all times, bestowed us with this fantastic music. More information on this production can be found here