ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
PERFORMER: Yao Hong, Dai Yuqiang, Sun Xiuwei; China National Centre for the Performing Arts Chorus & Orchestra/Daniel Oren; dir. Chen Xinyi (Beijing, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 20338
Irony abounds in this 2013 recording of Turandot. Old Peking becomes Beijing as Puccini’s chinois Art Deco fable is staged by a Chinese cast in the cavernous National Centre for the Performing Arts. The set is littered with visual clichés about China: walls and battlements that resemble the Great Wall, a pair of giant Foo Dogs, a vertiginous staircase for Calaf to sing the one aria the audience have clearly been waiting for, ‘Nessun Dorma’, and costumes that even Busby Berkeley might have had second thoughts about. When Ping, Pang and Pong dream of the lives that they might live away from the blood-stained Imperial court, a trio of chorines in gauzy tiered skirts and huge lotus blossom hats shimmy across the stage. And has Puccini’s last and uncompleted opera ever entertained such a vast chorus, a cultural cousin to the army of terracotta warriors with hats and headdresses, banners and lanterns?
By the time that Turandot melts into Calaf’s arms, spectacle has completely overtaken any attempt at drama in Chen Xinyi’s production. How one yearns for Alfano’s finale – short or long – to give us hope of a resolution and to warm the blood as Turandot surrenders. Instead we are rewarded with Hao Weiya’s newly composed finale, which is more collage than through composed.
Yao Hong is a tender Liu and Dai Yuqiang a beefy Calaf with a voice that is as powerful as the engines on a Boeing and acting as cumbersome as a take-off. Sun Xiuwei’s Turandot is underpowered in ‘In questa reggia’, but flies in the riddle scene, though here and in the final duet there’s some uncomfortable vibrato. Best of all are Ping, Pang and Pong who seem to heave escaped from a little known Peking opera.
In the pit Daniel Oren struggles to keep the whole show on the road – or rather the battlements.