Manga-inspired totalitarian Turandot

Puccini: Turandot

Turandot – Anda-Louise Bogza

Altoum – Wolfgang Gratschmaier

Timur – Karl Huml

Calaf – Mario Zhang

Liù – Kristiane Kaiser

Ping – Michael Kraus

Pang – Karl-Michael Ebner

Pong – Alexander Pinderak

Mandarin – Einar Th. Gudmundsson

Chor, Zusatzchor, Kinderchor und Orchester der Volksoper Wien / Enrico Dovico. Stage Director – Renaud Doucet. Volksoper, Vienna – Saturday, March 26th, 2011.

The Vienna Volksoper is the Staatsoper’s more popular cousin. They put on a diet of operetta, ballet, musicals and opera – many in translation. It’s a beautiful house –smaller than the Staatsoper with a much drier acoustic. It has been refurbished recently and looks fantastic. The seats are also extremely comfortable. I went along tonight to see their 2007 production of Turandot.

Often, I find that musical virtues tend to compensate for the production. Tonight was the opposite. I found it a superb show and by far the best Turandot I’ve seen. Just like Doris Dörrie’s production at the Staatsoper Berlin, it was inspired by the manga esthetic. Although where I found Dörrie’s to be a bit gimmicky, this production I found to really encapsulate the idea of the work. Doucet managed to bring it to the realm of fairy tales but still maintaining a sense of the individual personalities that made up the stories. Costumes were incredibly detailed and I also got the sense of a totalitarian state. This was achieved by having a ballet corps perform dances inspired by the Arirang massed games of North Korea. The Executioner was an Edward Scissorhands type whose arms were used by Liù at the moment of her suicide. Everything was inspired by the libretto and the text was used as the foundation for the concept.

The singing was variable. Naturally, any Turandot succeeds or fails on the strength of the chorus and the Volksoper chorus sang fearlessly. They don’t quite have the depth of tone or blend of the very finest choruses – too many individual voices sticking out – but the tuning was spot on. As in many productions, it was the Liù who stole the show. Kristiane Kaiser has a compact lyric soprano of great technical accomplishment. She floated the high notes beautiful and controlled the crescendo/diminuendos on the top perfectly. Hers was deservedly the biggest ovation of the night.

The other strong link in the cast was Michael Kraus’ Ping. He has a beautiful voice, perfectly modulated to the role. I hadn’t heard of him for a while but he’s singing very well.

Anda-Louise Bogza’s Turandot was curious. She is more of a Tosca or Butterfly than Turandot and at the start I questioned her actually singing the role. At the start the tuning was all over the place and ‘in questa reggia’ and the riddle scene were horribly flat. When she was duetting with Liù in Act 3, the voices were far too similar. Yet by the final scene she was on fire. The voice by then had amplitude and the tuning was spot-on. By the end I was convinced she could indeed sing the role. Part of the problem is that Puccini expects Turandot to come out and start screaming straight away – he gives her no opportunity to warm up.

Mario Zhang’s Calaf tried extremely hard. He had obviously worked on the words and the voice at times, especially in the middle register was somewhat redolent of Domingo. But then, he displayed all of the worst excesses of the Italian tenor – holding on to notes for much longer than necessary and approximate pitching. Still he made the big moments count – like the end of ‘that’ aria. I don’t foresee a particularly long career for him. He is fearless in the way he uses his voice and this may well take its toll sooner rather than later.

Zhang had several disagreements about tempo with the conductor. I hadn’t heard of Enrico Dovico before and I’m not really in a hurry to hear him again. He opted for spaciousness rather than dramatic momentum and there were moments where his singers clearly wanted to go faster. It’s a shame because what was happening on stage dramatically was gripping. An example – Act 2, scene ii should really seem like a gladiatorial contest between the prima donna and primo uomo. Mehta’s recording from the 1960s with Pavarotti and Sutherland is a model in pacing this scene. Tonight, it was just flaccid with no forward momentum. The orchestral playing was first class, the conducting less so.

Dramatically, this was one of the best shows I have scene in a while and I would be interested in seeing more of Doucet’s work. The soloists, chorus and orchestra gave their all – I just wish that they had been given musical direction that really managed to truly explore the dramatic power of the piece.

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4 responses to “Manga-inspired totalitarian Turandot

    • Bonjour et merci beaucoup d’avoir pris le temps de commenter sur mon blogue, M. Doucet. Cette Cenerentola me parait bien intéressante et vaut surement un déplacement à Hambourg.

  1. …how can it be? orchestra first class but conducter not?
    somebody who takes Metha as example for Turandot did NEVER had a look into the score!

    • Some orchestras are so good they can play themselves. However, in terms of tempi this show was seriously dreary and in no way did he manage to recreate the spectacular effects that Mehta succeeded in creating in his 1960s recording. Now, his later recording from Beijing I agree is not quite in the same league but that one with an LPO and John Alldis Choir on top of their game with an exceptional cast is unsurpassed. And yes, I do have a copy of the score and studied it eagerly.

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