Puccini: Turandot

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Turandot
PERFORMER: Gabriele Schnaut, Robert Tear, Paata Burchuladze, Johan Botha, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Boaz Daniel, Vicente Ombuena, Steve Davislim, Robert Bork; Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev; dir. David Pountney (Salzburg, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: 107094 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format)

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At last, a Konzept that is more than a clever idea. But then David Pountney’s ‘ideas’ have usually made you see a work quite differently by the time the curtain falls. His Turandot here at the Salzburg abandons the customary Chinoiserie taking its visual cue from Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis, with a touch of Tim Burton and Edward Scissorhands: Ping, Pang and Pong have a fist of evil-looking tools instead of one of their hands!

Instruments of torture abound and the plot now turns not on Calaf answering three riddles but on the death of Liù, who literally falls on a pair of scissors held by Turandot. Appalled by what has happened, both the Princess and her suitor begin to wash and lay out the slave girl’s body as the chorus, humanised now, return without masks and in everyday clothes. In this reading of the work it helps immeasurably that Pountney and Gergiev have jettisoned both Franco Alfano’s long and short endings, composed after Puccini’s death had left the work without a final scene, preferring Luciano Berio’s new version, which musically asks as many questions as it answers.

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Alas, the performance is more satisfying dramatically than musically. Gergiev whips things along in the pit, but Gabrielle Schnaut is a barking Turandot, Johan Botha a heroic but distinctly static Calaf, and Cristina Gallardo-Domâs coarse-grained as Liù. Looking while not listening is no way to savour this great piece, however thoughtful the spectacle. Christopher Cook