Saturday, January 21, 2012

Opera Australia – Puccini’s Turandot. January 21, 2012.

Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House.  Dress Circle (Seat P20, A$115.)

Story.  See previous post.

Conductor – Arvo Volmer.  Liu – Daria Masiero, Timur – Jud Arthur, Calaf – Rosario La Spina, Ping – Andrew Moran, Pong –David Corcoran, Pang – Graeme Macfarlane, Turandot – Susan Foster.

Six of us (Anne & myself, Ruth & Stephen, and Ling & Wally) went to see this opera after a simple lunch at Peking Dumplings in Chinatown.  Our row is the very last one in the theatre, but we are reasonably close to the stage.  Actually Anne and I moved up a few rows after Act I as there were quite a few empty seats.

Despite my impression that I was familiar with the opera, I had only heard it live once at the Holmdel Arts Center, as a concert.  And despite my not having seen this before, the opera felt very familiar.  Perhaps it is the simplicity of the plot, or perhaps it is because the melodies (some based on Chinese folk songs) are very familiar to me.

Bottom line: the overall performance was disappointing.  My major complaint is that it was sloppy, resulting in a muddled sound most of the time.

One performer that shone was Daria Masiero.  Her voice is not particularly strong, but she manages to convey well the emotions of Liu: her love of Calaf, and her willingness to sacrifice for him.  As a story, the sad part is that Calaf really didn’t have a lot of use for her, even though she made the ultimate sacrifice to save him from being executed.  Her two songs in Act I and Act III were the ones that came close to moving the audience.

Susan Foster as Turandot is basically a “shouter.”  She can belt out her notes clearly across the theatre, but without much drama.  Her explanation of why she was the way she was bordered on incomprehensible, and her change of heart wasn’t done with a lot of conviction either.

Most people have heard Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessum Dorma in the Three Tenors CD, and use that as the standard by which to measure performances by others.  This was poorly done by La Spina, not by the “gold” standard, but even by the standard of the amateur production I heard at the Holmdel Arts Center.  To be fair, La Spina was quite okay up to that point; but we expect the great ones to nail the difficult pieces, which he didn’t.

The stage is a bit small for the number of people they put on; you worry about them running into one another.  To their credit, no mishap occurred.  (It’s not always a given, I still remember a dancer at Madama Butterfly falling down, hard.) The color schemes are nice, but after a while you come to the conclusion that the design really doesn’t have a unifying theme to it.  Art for the sake of the artist showing off, not as part of a whole.  For my taste there was a bit too much smoke and mist.

In case you think the bashing is done, I have yet come to the orchestra and the chorus.  Here they needed to work on the most basic of orchestral and choral music: precision.  Other than for the simplest of passages (such as the song adapted from the folk song “Flower Song”), stray notes were all over the place, and imprecision was the norm.

There was very little applause during the Acts, only exception being after Nessum Dorma.  The applause at the end was quite enthusiastic, though.

I found today (23 Jan) a local review.  Another case of the reviewer needs to go out more.

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