Reviewed by James Karas
Andrei Serban’s production of Turandot for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is approaching its fortieth anniversary. After fifteen revivals it is still holding the stage and quite rightly so. It is opera on a grand scale with chorus and dancers the size of a small army and an array of huge, colourful props and powerful orchestral playing.
The title role is sung by Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin. She has sung Wagner and Strauss roles widely and Turandot, the icy Chinese princess may seem a bit off her beaten track. But with demanding arias like “In questa reggia” that require powerful expression, she is well in her vocal demesne. She does a good job and her princess displays the soprano’s strength but I am not convinced by her sudden conversion from iceberg to lover.
South Korean tenor Alfred Kim sings the difficult role of Calaf, the Unknown Prince. He has some major pieces where he has to surpass orchestra and chorus and Kim has a big enough voice to be heard. He does well in the lyrical passages but near the end he has to sing “Nessun dorma,” one of the most popular arias in the repertoire. Every tenor who got near a recording machine has put his voice on CD, vinyl or tape and can be compared to everyone else.
Kim does get the high notes but his voice is simply not sufficiently polished in the aria. You expect a perfectly clear, lyrical rendition and Kim’s performance falls just short of the wonder one expects. He was good but not great.
The finest performance is without hesitation credited to American soprano Ailyn Pérez as the slave Liu. She has a lovely voice, sweet, moving, polished and when she sings “Signore, ascolta!” our hearts melt.
British bass Matthew Rose sings the role of the old, deposed King Timur who is forced to beg with Liu. Rose sang the role with moving resonance but, despite his attempts to totter on his stick, his voice betrayed a young man with marvelous vocal chords. At the end of the opera, the frail old man drags a cortege with Liu’s dead body on it. The singing must have rejuvenated him.
As for spectacle, original director Serban and Revival Director Andrew Sinclair pull out all the stops. Huge dragons, scaffolds on wheels, a massive sword sharpening stone (there are lots of people to decapitate) a huge throne to lower Emperor Altoum (Alasdair Elliott) from the rafters, not to mention the huge crowds. There are dancers, guards, executioner’s men, wise men, phantoms, heralds, soldiers and ordinary people. We need two balconies to house the Royal Opera Chorus alone. The production can compete with the Roman Forum and the effect is stupendous.