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Puccini: TurandotPuccini: TurandotReview of Puccini's Turandot. According to the new concept of the Miskolc Opera Festival, framed two years ago, they would like to perform so-called ’popular operas’, that is melodic, theatrical music works, that can easily be received by a wider audience, too, but written with the highest aesthetic aspirations of classical music. Within that they mean ’modern’ works, by which definition they more or less mean the era after Béla Bartók (or, as we talk about an opera festival, the first performance of Bluebeard’s castle), until today. I am not sure that based on the above, Puccini’s name immediatley comes to one’s mind, but his last work, Turandot was premiered two years after the Italian composer’s death, in 1926, eight years after the first performance of Bluebeard’s castle. As for the statement that Puccini’s operas satisfy the conditions mentioned - ’the highest aesthetic aspirations’ and ’popularity’ -, it needs no further proof.

For all the above reasons it was entirely justified to perform Turandot this year, as one of the highlights of the Opera Festival. The opera was presented in the guest performance of the National Theatre Brno - Janáček Opera House in the Ice Hall of Miskolc.

Over recent years stage-director Balázs Kovalik’s excellent Turandot has been billed several times at the Opera House of Budapest, usually with fine casts. As I did not know much about the National Theatre Brno, I was afraid that this Turandot in Miskolc will not stand comparison with the production in Budapest. There was no need to worry: the Czech company has brought a splendid production to Miskolc, both as regards the stage-direction and the performers.  

Puccini: TurandotPuccini: TurandotAs I mentioned, The Ice Hall of Miskolc housed the production, which raises some questions, in point of the venue of an opera performance. Namely, that the size of an arena does not make it possible for the singers to sing without amplification. Opinions are divided as to whether it is ’permitted’ in an opera performance or not; I myself am conservative in this question. Mainly because the amplification does not make it possible for us to get an accurate picture about the vocal qualities of a singer: the microphone can make even small voices sound big. Amplification often distorts, too, sometimes making the performance unbearable, which I have often experienced, mainly in open-air productions. However, my doubts were settled fast, to be specific, already last year, when I saw Aida at the Miskolc Opera Festival, also in the Ice Hall. Carsten Kümmer, who was the sound engineer invited here in 2014 did a great job then, just as his fellow countryman and colleague, Moritz Berfgeld, who was the sound engineer of the Turandot-production now (and is going to be responsible for the amplification of Il trovatore, too, on Friday, on the 19th of July). The voices were amplified, but sounded clearly, without any distortion, giving us such a musical experience even in the last rows of the auditorium, as if we were listening to the performers from a few meters distance. Thanks to this, we could also distinct the colour and the character of the voices, too, though the use of microphones still made it difficult to judge the real volume of the voices.

We could only have an approximate picture about the stage-setting and the scenery, as well. The National Theatre Brno has brought its complete production, but the different size of the Ice Hall, and the sight of the iron construction around the stage made it only partly possible for the company of Brno to present their production as a whole, in every detail, as they do in their own indoor theatre.  

Puccini: TurandotPuccini: TurandotTurandot is a tale full of symbols, but directors usually try to present the surrounding and buildings of the Forbidden City of Beijing in a more or less realistic way (true, that the exotic surrounding already looks fabulous for European spectators). Jiři Nekvasil, the stage-director of the present performance thought otherwise: he placed the story into a surreal surrounding, where the minister dressed up as a clown and rolling a huge golden ball, the king looking out of a vast pumpkin-house (or something like that) and Turandot entering as the fabled queen with her blue hair could all go hand in hand. As a counterpoint of them there was the ’people’, whose grey-dressed representatives, resembling Chinese clay figures, were sitting on a stepped podium all along (though stood up sometimes). Similarly, Prince Calaf, Liú and Timur entered the stage wearing simple rags. This way the people surrounding Turandot contrasted with the real world of average people even more. Since not only Turandot, the king and the ministers, but also the children, the soldiers and the executioners belonging to the regal environment appeared as parts of this colourful fable, bringing into relief the Forbidden City - and within that, the realm of Turandot inaccessible for mortals - even more than usual.

The stage, mostly lit by blue and red lights, looked exciting, though, something was obviously wrong with lighting, and sometimes the stage was too dark.

Puccini: TurandotPuccini: TurandotConductor Jakub Klecker unified the Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno superbly. The musicians were in front of the stage, at the same level as the audience (because there is no  orchestral pit here, of course.) It is somewhat disturbing, but enjoyable, too, because we have a great opportunity to study the work of the orchestra. They were playing in harmony with each other, concentratedly, picturing finely even the subtlest details of the unbelivably colourful orchestration of the score of Turandot. (Though - in spite of the size of the Hall - the brasses of the huge orchestra were compelled to play on the side of the stage, where the audience could not see them.) Sometimes I missed the stronger contrasts - especially the heavier sounds of the percussion section in Act I -, but on the whole it was a first-rate orchestral performance. The same was true of the Choir of the National Theatre Brno, which was represented by only 48 people (this is not much in the case of Turandot), but they sounded very well, though, the amplification may have decieved me again. Sometimes they were late, but most of the time they were singing accurately, and the same compliment applies to the Children’s Choir of the Cantemus Choir of Nyíregyháza, who were well-controlled and in tune.

Among the soloists the attraction of the evening was Maida Hundeling singing the title role. She was one of the best Turandots I have seen on stage. She sang this killing role easily from beginning to end, and the extremely high tessitura was not a problem for her, either. I especially liked, that in spite of her voice being dramatic enough, powerful, hard and being capable of singing good low notes, too, her voice has a lighter tone. (Most often the role is sung by dramatic sopranos with heavier, darker tone, but few of them can cope with those terrifying high notes.)

Puccini: TurandotPuccini: TurandotOleg Kulko, who sang the role of Calaf, is a real dramatic tenor, who could also tackle the difficulties of his part, but in his case I could not really judge, how he would ba able to sing over the large orchestra without a microphone. The voice sometimes became a bit insecure, ’slipping about’ a bit, and his acting was quite one-dimensional. (For example, he acknowledged pretty apathetically Liù’s torture and her suicide in front of the skulls scooped into the wall at the back). A younger singer with similar qualities may have been a better choice, but it is not easy to find an ideal tenor for the role of Calaf. On the whole Kulko gave a very good performance, he also sang his ’Nessun dorma’ well, after which the audience applauded (though the conductor carried on conducting…).  

The role of Liù was sung by Daniela Straková-Šedrlová. Her fine soprano voice was combined with confident singing, though it would have been better to find a younger singer for this role, too. For me she made the part of Liù too dramatic, and I missed the nuances, the pianos in her arias.

Ladislav Mlejnek singing Timur did what we usually expect from this role: with his slightly hoarse bass voice he interpreted the figure of Calaf’s father being shattered in mind and body in a resonant voice.

Jiří Brückler, Zoltán Korda and Petr Levíček impersonating the three ministers, were singing and acting truly excellently, creating a harmonious trio both as actors and singers. Even among this ensemble of good comedians the voice of the baritone singing Ping stood out.

After the end of the opera the members of the orchestra were listening to the endless applause with more and more surprised faces, as they had not expected such a success. But they really deserved it.

Balázs Csák

(www.operaportal.hu)

*

14 June, 2015, Miskolc, Ice Hall

Miskolc Opera Festival

Giacomo Puccini:

 

TURANDOT

Opera in three acts, in Italian

Guest performance of the National Theatre Brno - Janáček Opera House.

 

Libretto: Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni

Set designer: Daniel Dvořák
Costume designer: Simona Rybáková

Conducted by: Jakub Klecker
Directed by: Jiři Nekvasil

Cast:

Turandot - Maida Hundeling
The Emperor Altoum - Ivan Choupenitch
Timur - Ladislav Mlejnek
Calaf - Oleg Kulko
Liù - Daniela Straková-Šedrlová
Ping - Jiří Brückler
Pang - Zoltán Korda
Pong - Petr Levíček
A Mandarin - David Nykl

Children’s Choir of the Cantemus Choir of Nyíregyháza (artistic director: Soma Szabó)

Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno

 

 

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