Puccini: Turandot (in English)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Turandot (in English)
PERFORMER: Jane Eaglen, Dennis O’Neill, Mary Plazas, Clive Bayley, Nicolai Gedda; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, New London Children’s Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3086(2)
The generous Peter Moores Foundation is indisputably a force for good. Witness the several fine singers on this recording who studied on PMF scholarships. But its commitment to recording operas in badly translated English is harder to comprehend. If it’s prepared to invest in first-rate musicians, why does it not commission decent dramatic, even poetic, libretti?

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Jane Eaglen and Dennis O’Neill may be world-class performers but neither is truly on form here. Eaglen’s voice is marvellously expansive and fruity, but though she may be singing from an English-language score, her heart seems to remain in one of the many Italophile opera houses in which she has performed this role. For the sound she produces, though glorious, is a largely unintelligible soup of extravagant vowels and lost consonants in which her character seems to have drowned. But who can blame her? ‘Within this palace a story lives forever’, as William Radice’s banal translation calls her big number, is rather harder to make meaningful than ‘In questa reggia’, and she gives it all the drama of a public-service announcement. Dennis O’Neill is both clearer and the better actor, but his ponderous, anticlimactic, rather distant ‘None shall sleep now’, in which the starlight ‘throbs’ rather than shivers or trembles, is soporifically slow.

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Still, there are some creditable performances elsewhere. David Parry whips the Philharmonia along with verve, but never at the expense of the score’s bewitching detail. And among the soloists, Mary Plazas’s ethereal, gossamer-spinning Liù and Clive Bayley’s imposing Timur stand out, as does the veteran Nicolai Gedda as an authentically aged and elegant Emperor. Claire Wrathall