ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: Turandot (including Act III, compl. Berio)
PERFORMER: Gabriele Schnaut, Johan Botha, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Paata Burchuladze; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Tölz Boys Choir, Vienna PO/Valery Gergiev; dir. David Pountney (Salzburg Festival, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPTURSF
This 2002 Salzburg Turandot, conducted with a sense of fluidity by Valery Gergiev, presents the new ending by the late Luciano Berio. It’s a subtler job than the standard Alfano text, developing Puccini’s sketches into a complex modern texture. Whether it will replace the familiar version remains to be seen.
David Pountney’s production, with some spectacular and obviously expensive visuals by Johan Engels (sets) and Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), places the opera in a mechanised nightmare world, with menacing automata, masks and machinery. Ping, Pang, Pong and the chorus have scissors or cutters for hands, like the character in the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie – only they’re meant to be scary. Gabriele Schnaut’s Turandot stands high up for the riddles, with her golden dress cascading beneath her like a waterfall. The vast head that has opened up to reveal her later tumbles over to comprise the set for the final act.
All these visuals are impressive as pieces of stagecraft but the dehumanised effect Pountney is aiming at robs the drama of its emotional impact. Exceptions are the moving Liù of Christina Gallardo-Domâs, visually and vocally beautifully realised, and the dignified Timur of Paata Burchuladze.
The two main participants are weak. Much of Schnaut’s singing is frankly ugly, and she’s nothing to look at, which Turandot surely has to be. Neither is Botha’s Calaf, while his soft-grained, un-Italianate vocalism rarely fits the bill.
Excellent picture and sound quality, however, plus some worthwhile interview material. George Hall