Puccini – Turandot
Turandot – Lise Lindstrom
Altoum – Javier Agulló
Timur – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Calaf – Jorge de León
Liù – Jessica Nuccio
Ping – Germán Olvera
Pang – Valentino Buzza
Pong – Pablo García López
Mandarin – Ventseslav Anastasov
Escolania de la Mare de Déu dels Desemparats, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana / Zubin Mehta.
Stage director – Chen Kaige
Palau de les Arts, València. Friday, June 13th, 2014.
This was a very special evening. A very well-cast revival capped by choral singing and orchestral playing of an extremely rare quality. When Zubin Mehta came to the podium to begin the show he was greeted by a rapturous ovation. One reason for this is that the Palau de les Arts’ very existence is under threat due to a complex combination of the economic crisis and the endemic government corruption in València. This isn’t really the place to go into detail about the critical issues facing this outstanding theatre but those who read Spanish can find out more here.
Zubin Mehta’s recording with Sutherland, Pavarotti and Caballé is the way I got to learn this piece as a teenager. I remember vividly the day I went to Archambault in Montreal to buy it having saved up to do so. Getting to hear him conduct it was a great privilege. Over the years tempi have broadened but his ear for orchestral colour is still very much there. There was just one place where I really feel he should have pressed forward a bit more and that was at the end of Act 3 in the Alfano completed parts. This particular section of the score needs all the help it can get and it really needed to be moved along a little more. That said, I can completely understand why he would want to luxuriate in the warm glow of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana’s playing. Otherwise, it was a superbly roof-raising reading – big and bold in vibrant primary colours yet never forgetting the lyricism and sense of line that permeate the piece. In a way, it was a bel canto reading and this was reflected in singing of great ease and beauty.
I heard Lise Lindstrom’s Turandot at the Royal Opera last fall and at the time I couldn’t write up a post about it. I’m glad I have the opportunity to do so now. She is an exceptional Turandot of great distinction. The voice has an ease and amplitude in the upper register that is staggering. Indeed, the voice has great height and a superb cutting power that means that when riding torrents of sound as she did tonight, it sounds as easy as taking a walk in the park. The sound is bright and penetrating yet never harsh. She was also an imperious stage presence. Jorge de León’s Calaf is the best thing I’ve heard him do. He sang with great authority and a fantastic sense of line – yes, he ducked the high C in the riddle scene but he completely nailed ‘that’ aria. His singing has gained in richness and amplitude and while there is some tightness here and there, it was a deeply impressive reading.
Jessica Nuccio is a name new to me and one I predict we will be seeing a lot more of. This was one of those ‘star is born’ evenings. The tone itself is a little shallow but she’s still in her twenties and this will surely develop. The voice is a good size and carries easily. What she does have is an ability to float those top notes and fine them down to a perfect pianissimo that still carries through the house in a way that is redolent of a certain Catalan diva. Her awareness of text is also very special. Alexander Tsymbalyuk was on fabulous form as Timur more than fulfilling the promise I saw in his Boris in Munich last year. The voice is big, rich and deep. He also has this unteachable ability to use the music and phrasing to carry the text. Superb. The Ping, Pang and Pong – two of whom are members of the Palau’s young artist program – were more than decent and carried their scene well.
As I mentioned when writing about the Royal Opera’s revival of this piece back in February, this is a highly problematic work. Chen Kaige’s production went for the ‘local colour’ route with costumes and sets reflecting a mythical China. It’s the kind of thing one would see at the Met. It worked really well tonight because the musical standards were so high. It meant that one could switch one’s brain off to the deeply disturbing issues in the plot and just bask in the glory of the incredible sound carrying through this glorious acoustic.
The word ‘incredible’ defines the contribution of the peerless Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana for they were perhaps the real heroes of this show. I have never, ever heard this piece sung so well. The sound itself has wonderful amplitude, ensemble is immaculate and there is no war of vibratos that makes listening to some other opera choruses so tiresome. The sopranos hit the high C sharp at the end of ‘gira la cote’ dead on and the chord itself was perfectly tuned. The unison high C with Lindstrom’s Turandot in Act 2 was simply unforgettable. The tuning of the hazardous unaccompanied section following Liù’s death was also spot on. They make a glorious sound and I feel exceptionally privileged to have heard them tonight.
This was music making at the very highest level and it saddens me to know that the survival of this house is threatened. Valencians are extremely lucky to have a house of this quality in their city. Tonight was also notable for some outstanding solo performances from an outstanding cast. It was an exceptional evening.