Monday, November 2, 2015

From Noon to Midnight at the Met, Part II

Giacomo Puccini
Metropolitan Opera
October 3, 2015

Zeffirelli's grand Orientalist extravaganza
Photo credit: Marty Sohl
After having seen just a few hours earlier the Goya-dark and emotions-stirring Trovatore matinee, the Turandot evening show on the very same stage felt like a kitschy operatic Disneyland – all glitter but no depth or complexity of any sort. And we experienced Puccini’s Oriental extravaganza in its best possible form (Zeffirelli’s grand production) with a sensational cast (Goerke, Alvarez, Gerzmava). The performance was truly spectacular, the way a Turandot should be. One could see why this is a house-filling blockbuster: elaborate sets that create an exotic fantasyland, extremely straightforward fairy tale plot and dozens of dancers and singers swarming all over the stage, doing all sorts of eye-catching stuff. Had I seen Turandot any other evening, I would have probably been pretty excited about it, but catching it on the same day I witnessed the best Trovatore ever, I really could not help but compare the two operas and the Verdi one was the clear winner for me, mostly because I found the plot way more multi-layered, relatable and interesting than Puccini’s. No matter how gorgeous the music, if the narrative does not captivate me, I simply don’t enjoy an opera as much.

Disneyland glitz in all its glory at the Met
Photo credit: Marty Sohl
Putting aside the sets’ many bells and whistles and the excellent lead singers, the Met Orchestra and the Met Chorus, led by maestri Paolo Carignani and Donald Palumbo, respectively, were the true protagonists of this piece. The orchestration was through the roof. I never heard the Met Orchestra playing like that. So loud, so full. So grandiose. And the Met Chorus as the Peking mob and the court at Turandot’s imperial palace was truly sensational and carried the opera through, matching the explosive grandiosity of the orchestra.

Calaf mourns the loss of Liu
Photo credit: Marty Sohl
When it comes to Turandot’s individual singers and smaller ensembles, though, while there were many perfectly enjoyable moments, very few were memorable or captivating to me. And not for any singer’s fault. It’s just that the opera itself does not have more than a handful of truly compelling arias, basically Nessun dorma by prince Calaf and Tanto amore segreto by the loving slave Liu before she kills herself. Nessun dorma is one of the most famous operatic arias ever, as Sir Denis Forman put it in Night at the Opera, this “wonderful aria shines out, pure Italian gold, amidst all the surrounding exotica. It has a sweeping line, a great climax and if you don’t fall for this you might as well give up hope of a good relationship with Italian opera.”

Timur and his faithful Liu fare their way
Photo credit: Marty Sohl
The Argentine tenor Marcelo Alvarez was a force of nature as Calaf. This singer is growing on me every time I see him. He truly rides orchestras and has a manly melodic power that is a pleasure to hear and at times pretty gut stirring, too. I particularly liked his soaring Nessun dorma and the power with which he attacked his responses to the three riddles. Russian up-and-coming soprano Hibla Gerzmava was a moving and intense Liu. I will be interested to see her again in other roles. American dramatic soprano Christine Goerke as the ice princess Turandot had impressive and almost thunderous power, however, her lines are pretty declamatory in nature and there’s not much expressivity that can come out of that no matter how good the singer.

Trovatore and Turandot together total more than Die Meistersinger, however, after spending over six hours at the Met, I actually felt pretty exhilarated about the Verdi + Puccini operatic overload – which I could not really say after equally long yet painful Wagnerian experiences. Just another confirmation of the fact that I can take Italian opera in huge doses but continue to have digestive issues with Wagner...

– Lei & Lui

The ice princess Turandot remains impenetrable
Photo credit: Marty Sohl

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