Puccini: Turandot

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: C Major
PERFORMER: Maria Guleghina, Javier Agulló, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Marco Berti, Alexia Voulgaridou, Fabio Previati, Vincenç Esteve, Roger Padullés; Valencia Regional Government Choir & Community Orchestra/Lorin Maazel; dir. Chen Kaige (Valencia, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: 700308

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Paradox rules in Chen Kaige’s production of Turandot for Santiago Calatrava’s spectacular new theatre building, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia.

Here’s an 18th-century Italian fable about a mythical China made into a 20th-century Romantic opera and now directed for the stage by one of the masters of modern Chinese cinema who hopes that his production will give a Spanish audience in Valencia ‘a better understanding of Chinese culture’! 

Never mind: Puccini’s final work was always more chinoiserie than Chinese, despite the local musical colour, while Chen’s on-screen China has always been as much flamboyantly theatrical as historical. In the event this sumptuous production looks more Aladdin’s Old Peking than a Manchu Imperial capital.

That’s when you’re allowed to get a proper view of the handsome pavilion set and Chen’s elegantly choreographed chorus dressed in properly spectacular costumes as they create an onstage audience for the drama. Alas, Tiziano Mancini directs this video with all the finesse of an apprentice butcher.

Maria Guleghina is ample, and amply voiced, as the ‘principessa di morte! principessa di gelo’, though she does rather mug her way through ‘In questa reggia’ and the ensuing riddle scene. Marco Berti is a big beefy Calaf. But best of all is Alexi Voulgaridou’s smoky toned Liù – for once you can hear the pain in both her arias. 

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Turandot has always been one of Zubin Mehta’s most appealing calling cards, and he rarely disappoints here in Valencia. The sweep of this great score is admirably balanced by a proper attention to orchestral and instrumental detail. Christopher Cook