Review: Turandot – Sydney Opera House (NSW)

Review by Justin Clarke

Composed by Giacomo Puccini, Conducted by Renato Palumbo, Directed and Choreographed by Graeme Murphy

Opera Australia’s production of Puccini’s Turandot was a delightful surprise that I am so glad was extended our way, especially as someone with a new eye to the opera scene. Turandot is a masterful staging of Puccini’s last opera, with decadent set and costume design and all the pomp one would expect from a night at the opera.

Turandot wasn’t quite finished when Puccini died in 1924, which gives the opera more significance in the theatrical world. While some argue that the ending (which was written by Puccini’s student) isn’t the most satisfying of endings for the great composer’s piece, the sophistication of Turandot demonstrates Puccini’s ever-changing use of thematic messages and styles in his works.

Set in the Imperial Palace in Peking (modern-day Beijing), the show begins with a mandarin announcing that any noble man seeking to marry the icy Princess Turandot (Lise Lindstrom) must answer her three riddles. If the noble man cannot answer the three riddles, he will be killed, but if he succeeds, he can marry the princess . We find out that the Prince of Persia has failed to answer her riddles and the surging crowd are praying for him to be spared. A blind man, Timur (David Parkin) – the banished King of Tartery – is knocked to the ground and while he is helped by his servant Liu (Karah Son), a young man comes to their aid, who is revealed as Timur’s long lost son Prince Calaf (Yonghoon Lee). Upon laying eyes on Turandot, Calaf instantly falls in love with the unfeeling Princess and believes that he is the man to successfully answer her three riddles and melt her cold heart with love.

The biggest hit of the show is the incomparable ‘Nessun dorma’, probably the most recognisable aria to the unseasoned operatic audience – the hit was famously sung by Pavarotti at the 1990 football World Cup. Yonghoon Lee’s voice perfectly wraps its away around this piece of music and Renato Palumbo’s orchestrating builds with anticipation to the climax of the piece with joyous resonance in the Joan Sutherland Theatre.

Karah Son’s Liu demonstrated mind-bending high notes that lured you in and garnered such sympathy for the tragic nature of her character. Her unrequited love for Calaf is at the heart of Turandot’s story and from the reaction of the crowd, this feeling was shared throughout the performance.

Shane Placentino’s set and costume design is jaw-dropping to say the least. Mixed with Graeme Murphy’s directing and choreography, there are stunning colours to please any palette. Images such as a floating sea of turquoise, the vibrant golden yellow of the Emperor suspended above the ground in his elegant robes, or the foreboding golden gong that Calaf rings, are laid out in a visual banquet for the audience.

John Drummond Montgomery’s lighting design further adds to the emotional resonance of poetry and love, and death which is ever looming in the world of Turandot. The initial reveal of the titular Turandot is a standout in its use of contrast and shadows.

With such spectacle, storytelling and unique visuals and sounds on offer, it would be remiss of me to not recommend that others take the leap into something new.

What I found most powerful in the piece was the unique points in the orchestrations when the mass of bodies, that was the Opera Australia Chorus and Children’s Chorus, sang to highlight powerful moments of tension or delight. It was these moments where you would feel overwhelmed or find yourself really honing in on the notes being played.

To say the least, this first experience of an opera for me was a delight and one that opened my eyes to the opera world. Despite the language barrier (the show being sung in Italian with subtitles cast on a screen) the stories are so dramatically told with appealing visuals that there is enough to follow the plot without your eyes playing a ping pong match between screen and stage. With such spectacle, storytelling and unique visuals and sounds on offer, it would be remiss of me to not recommend that others take the leap into something new.

With a simple story, powerful sounds, a feast of visuals and all the decadence and pomp that one would want from an opera, Turandot may just be the show to stretch your culture bubble this summer.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Images supplied by Opera Australia

Turandot plays at the Sydney Opera House until March 14. Tickets and information can be found here.

Composer Giacomo Puccini
Librettist Giuseppe Adami & Renato Simoni
Conductor (Jan12-Feb12) Renato Palumbo
Conductor (Feb 14-Mar 14) Leonardo Sini
Director & Choreographer Graeme Murphy
Revival Director Shane Placentino
Set and Costume Designer Kristian Fredrikson
Lighting Designer John Drummond Montgommery
Assistant Director Warwick Doddrell

Turandot Lise Lindstrom (Jan 12 – Feb 5)
Turandot Anna-Louise Cole (Feb 9 – Mar 14)
Calaf Yonghoon Lee (Jan 12 – Jan 28)
Calaf Ivan Gyngazov (Feb 2 – Mar 14)
Liu Karah Son (Jan 12 – Feb 12)
Liu Mariana Hong (Feb 14 – Mar 14)
Timur David Parkin
Pong Virgilio Marino
Pang Iain Henderson
Ping Luke Gabbedy
Emperor Dean Bassett
Mandarin Alexander Sefton

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