Turandot has been inviting me to see her for weeks. Banners of her face line Broad Street all the way from the Phillies stadium to the Ben Franklin sculpture atop city hall. Puccini’s heroine also beckoned from full page ads in the newspaper and in television commercials.
My expectations for this performance are to the moon! But in hindsight, maybe I should have aimed them closer to earth.
While there are great moments in this big sweaty production, I left without the typical skip in my step. I do not fall head over heels for Turandot.
I invite Rob for a drink to get his professional insight on what might have turned me off this evening. Over a piney IPA at Jose Pistoles he continues my education that began over coffee so many years ago. Rob is instrumental in catching my vocabulary up with my ear and I learn a lot during these conversations about voice and orchestration.
I remind myself though that I’m writing this blog as a fan of opera and not a critic, so I will keep specific criticisms to myself. To be so vulnerable in front of an audience is always a brave act in my opinion, and one to be applauded.
On a positive, Francesco Hong does a superb job with the crowd pleasing aria Nessun Dorma. There is a moment after the climactic declaration of, “I will win, I will win” where the orchestra sweeps past Calaf’s outro and ascends to stick an exclamation mark onto his outpouring of love and hope. It hangs in the air that anything is possible, that winning is possible.
It just takes a single moment like this in opera to not only salvage an off night, but rekindle the passions of love in hand and love unrequited.
The Academy of Music in Philadelphia where Turandot is playing is one of the oldest opera houses in the United States. The gas lights outside were first lit in 1857. Inside, the seating is crowned with an enormous chandelier that hangs from a ceiling held up by four capable sculptures of Atlas.
So what’s Turandot all about? It begins with the Prince of Persia losing his head! The Queen, Turandot, has put up some pretty tall emotional walls around herself, and that wall is surrounded by the decapitated heads of men, like the Prince, who have courted her. She has good reasons to feel the way she does about men and strangers and her icy exterior is warranted. Duty bounds her to present them with three riddles and the chance to marry her. Enter Prince Calaf who is recently reunited with his vanquished father the King of Tartary and his faithful servant Liu’ (Liu’ might be the most sympathetic character in the opera and has some of my favorite vocal moments). Calaf falls for Turandot at first sight and will risk his own life to answer her three riddles that, if he guesses, will secure her marriage, but if he doesn’t will lose his head.
*A sad trivia is that Puccinni passed away before he finished the opera. While there was enough of an outline to be finished by others, endearingly on the night of its first performance the conductor Toscanini did not finish but put down his baton and said, “Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died.” His last notes are a flute that hangs in the air above the orchestra after Liu’ sings her last aria.
Notes on the production