The Castell Peralada Festival has celebrated its thirtieth edition, highlighting in its programming the two representations of the Puccinian Turandot, which they took place last 6 Y 8 of August, with great success of audience that completely filled the Auditorium Parc del Castell. Turandot was performed for the first time at the Empordà festival.
But, go to parties, since before judging these representations of Turandot, I would like to introduce the reader to the origins, genesis and great performers of this opera, which can be considered the masterpiece of Giacomo Puccini, being his last and unfinished composition and where the great master of Lucca build a score of rabid modernity, where he is receptive to the great musical changes introduced in the first part of the 20th century, by authors like Claude Debussy, igor Stravinski, Richard Strauss and even Arnold Schoenberg. But nevertheless, reserve spaces for that fine melodism present in his previous operas.
Renato Simone Y Giuseppe Adami, they were in charge of writing the libretto, adapting the play Turandotte of the Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi, where elements of the “art comedy”, with characters from the mask theater, and whose premiere took place in 1762, at the San Samuele Theater in Venice. Gozzi's work was translated into German by Friedrich Schiller, being represented in Germanic lands at the beginning of the XIX century. In 1917, and at the Zurich Opera House the opera premiered Turandot, from Ferruccio Busoni, who besides the musical composition, was commissioned to write the libretto in German based on the work of Carlo Gozzi. So, Puccini and his librettists were challenged to return to a theme that had already been repeatedly addressed.
Genesis Turandot it occurred very slowly, starting in 1920 and lengthening over a long period of four years. In spring 1924, Simone and Adami completed the libretto; what, regarding the work of Gozzi, presented some substantial modifications, as the creation of an essential character in the development of the work: the slave Liu, sweet woman, of great femininity and self-denial, as opposed to the beautiful and cruel princess Turandot. The masks Tartaglia, Pants Y Truffaldino that appear in the work of Carlo Gozzi and in the opera of Ferruccio Busoni, they turn into Ping, Pang Y Pong who serve as ministers of the Chinese empire. Due to throat cancer, Puccini passed away in November 1924, leaving the final part of the opera musically unfinished, after Liù's death. Arturo Toscanini took over the score, commissioning the composer Franco Alfano your conclusion. Alfano worked from a few notes left by Puccini before he died, adding some own music and picking up some previous themes from the opera, with a brilliant and triumphant conclusion. At first, Alfano's work lasted approximately twenty-two minutes, which Toscanini reduced to fifteen. This shorter ending of Alfano, It is the one that has usually been performed since the premiere of the opera, happened the 25 April 1926, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, with the direction of Arturo Toscanini and the ensemble of interpreters formed by the Polish soprano Rosa Raisa as Turandot, the Calaf of our great Miguel Fleta Y Maria Zamboni in the character of Liù. At that premiere of Turandot, and right after Liù's death, the master Toscanini left the baton, And when the curtain fell slowly, addressed the audience with these excited words “Here the opera ends, because at this point the teacher died” The second show included the ending of Franco Alfano
He 25 of January of 2002, with Riccardo Chailly conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebow Orchestra, premiered at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Festival, a new ending performed by the composer Luciano Berio, based on the notes left by Puccini, and also with own music, where a long musical interlude is included, as a transition from Turandot's radical change of attitude towards Calaf. Y, the final moment of the opera, poses open and meditative with piano sounds, compared with the forceful and triumphalist proposed by Franco Alfano. In new productions of Turandot, the ending composed by Luciano Berio is being adapted more and more frequently.
Turandot had a golden age between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the seventies of the last century, when two great singers came together: Birgit Nilsson like Turandot and Calaf de Franco Corelli, who not only interpreted their respective characters, but, in a rare vocal and dramatic identification, they were really Turandot and Calaf. They met on stage more than fifty times, having bequeathed us several recordings both in studio and live shots, where you can hear his extraordinary creations, in the company of alternatives and magnificent Liù, as Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto, Rossanna Carteri, Clara Petrella, Teresa Stratas, Anna Moffo, Pilar Lorengar or the russian Galina Visnevskaya. In the mid-1970s and almost in unison with Birgit Nilsson's last performances as Turandot, the Bulgarian soprano picks up the baton Ghena Dimitrova, and a few years later the Hungarian Eva Marton. Both singers will perform magnificent performances of the terrible Chinese princess, practically until the end of the last century. Placido Domingo has made numerous brilliant performances of Calaf, being the only one who has come to sing it with Birgit Nilsson, Ghena Dimitrova and Eva Marton. Swedish soprano Irene Theorin, has become the official Turandot in the last ten years, having interpreted it in more than a hundred performances. His powerful vocality and great stage presence have been the great incentive of the two functions of Turandot, represented in Peralada the past days 6 Y 8 of August.
One of the attractions of this new production of Turandot made for the Peralada Festival, is the set design made by Paco Azorín, whose minimalist character does not detract an iota of visual appeal, and that raises a rotating central structure with a timber framework in the shape of a pagoda, and an internal staircase that leads to a raised platform where Princess Turandot will appear in a majestic way in Act I. Interior staircase and platform disappear as of Act II. The back of the stage is dominated by a gigantic gong, illuminated with different colors depending on the development of the dramatic action. At the ends of the stage there are two boxes, that will accommodate different actions throughout the development of the representation. Definitely, This set of simple structures made possible an interesting staging, that in the hands of Mario Gas, it was extremely static. Only, the brilliant appearance on the scene of the Ping ministers, Pang y Pong, about two Chinese carts and their theatrical performances throughout the entire performance produce a certain scenic dynamism. Those carts reappear carrying beautiful courtesans, when the ministers want to bribe Calaf in Act III. The success of Mario Gas should be noted when showing a Turandot with the presence of a goddess on a raised platform, in his first stage appearance, that is becoming a more human and insecure being, when he almost vanishes on stage when he realizes that Calaf has got the third of the enigmas right. Ping, Pang and Pong are also very well characterized, showing his ambivalent character: comical and grotesque in Act I, of extreme cruelty when they have Liù tortured in Act III; Y, in his big scene from Act II, Mario Gas presents them as authentic cheers, what do they drink, They snort coca and smoke opium. Other details of this staging, they are quite out of place, how to use, at the beginning of the opera, of one of the aforementioned side boxes, by two courtesans who translate the Mandarin edict into sign language, allowing viewers to not focus properly on the singer's performance, nor in listening to the shocking music that is being played. This is repeated in Act II, this time by Ping, Pang y Pong, when the mandarin reappears. Y, it is totally incongruous, that those two boxes be used, in Act III, by Pang and Pong, to slaughter chickens, while Ping tortures Liú, turning into grotesque and in bad taste one of the most dramatic moments of the entire work. After the death of Liù, the orchestra stops, and Mario Gas himself launches the aforementioned speech by Arturo Toscanini over the public address system, the day of the premiere of Turandot; for, then, and in a very debatable way, run the entire ending of the opera -short version by Franco Alfano- with the performers dressed in modern ball gowns, as if it were a performance in the form of a concert.
The costume design made by Antonio Belart, especially in the sumptuous dresses of Turandot, and in general of the entire noble class, resulting highly original the outfits exhibited by Ping, Pang y Pong, with purely Western ball gowns covered by typically Chinese capes. Y, as opposed, the poor clothes of the popular classes, with clear nods to the Maoist era. Excellent lighting design by Quico Gutierrez, whose wise use, complements and brightens up the simple scenery.
The performance of the Liceu Symphony Orchestra, it turned out discreet, since the director Giampaolo Bisanti failed to give sufficient prominence to the rich orchestration performed by Puccini. As well, acoustics problems that occur in an outdoor setting should be noted, especially in an opera with such contrasting sounds. The Bisanti direction achieved its best achievements in the moments of the most beautiful melodic content, as is the case of the scene of “I sing to the moon” in Act I, of clear impressionist flavor. Also in the performance of exotic music, clearly Chinese in style, that accompanies Ping's interventions, Pang y Pong, in his long scene from Act II. In the most spectacular moments, Bisanti abused sounds in fortísimo. It should be noted the good concerted work of the Italian director in the accompaniment of the singers, especially in the delicate arias performed by Liù, or in those precious phrases when Calaf urges Turandot to guess his name before dawn: “My name you don't know. Tell me my name. Tell me my name before dawn and at dawn I will die ", definitely, one of the most beautiful moments of this opera.
In regards to solo singers, note first the great performance of Irene Theorin as Turandot, exhibiting her beautiful and powerful velvety-timbre voice, with a perfect legato and great capacity in the regulations, from sounds in forte to delicate notes in pianissimi, along with a nuanced interpretation, giving authentic dramatic relief to each phrase, to every word sung. The Swedish soprano faced with strength and courage the terrifying tessitura of "In this palace", with great profusion of high notes that must be attacked vertically, some of them issued by Theorin with a certain tension. His performance was gaining in quality and intensity in the course of the enigmas scene, follower of the air "Son of Heaven", where I masterfully alternate singing piano and forte, offering this time, some high notes very well placed. His performance was truly extraordinary throughout the ending of the opera, next to the Calaf of a Roberto Aronica woody timbre and irregular emission, which had already become apparent by being unable to qualify the poetic accents of Aryan "Don't cry Liù". He had real problems at the end of the first of the riddles, and omitted the alternate Do4, what arises, in the phrase “No, no, haughty princess! I want you all burning with love ", when Calaf rebukes Turandot, after the riddle scene. His interpretation of the famous "No one sleep", it was not more than discreet, with certain mismatches with respect to the orchestral sound.
Great performance by the soprano Maria Katzarava, Liu como, with an attractive voice timbre, showing a wide and elegant phrasing, great ability to regulate the sound and good command of all registers from well emitted bass to brilliant rises to high. He showed a delicate edge line in "Sir, listen", of Act I, to end the aria by regulating the sound from pianissimi to forte and back to pianissimi in a brilliant "Voice". Already in Act III, his performance scratched high in his two consecutive arias: "The love?…So much secret and unconfessed love ", and above all, in the precious andantino "You who gel inhabitant", sung with painful expression. In sum, a great interpretation of the young Mexican soprano, destined for a magnificent career.
Good performance as Timur of the young bass Andrea Mastroni, giving noble accents to all his interventions, especially in the concertante with whom Act I ends, and in his pathetic singable before the corpse of Liù.
Another of the attractions of these performances were the magnificent performances of the baritone Manuel Esteve and tenors Francisco Vas Y Stephen Vincent, respectively as ministers Ping, Pang y Pong, especially in his big scene from Act II. Of three, Francisco Esteve shone brilliantly, who is in charge of the longest interventions. All of them combined an excellent vocality and great theatrical capacity in their changing attitudes throughout the entire performance..
The presence of the tenor is a luxury Once Josep like Emperor Altoum, giving authentic relief to a role almost always assigned to tenors in frank decline. Definitely, in his duet with Calaf from Act II "An atrocious oath forces me" his performance was even better than Roberto Aronica's. Well the interpretation of Jose Manuel Diaz like mandarin, in his two stage appearances.
The choirs are fundamental in this opera, with its almost continuous stage presence, where it is underlining the changing attitudes of the people to the events that are developing. The performance of the Intermezzo choir conducted by Enrique Rueda was somewhat irregular, with truly brilliant moments, as in all the scenes of the “I sing to the moon” or in the procession towards the death of the prince of Persia, along with others of greater sound force, issued with excessive volume. It is also necessary to comment on certain imbalances in the female choir, and that the sound, at times, it won't be compact, possibly due to the dispersion of the singers all over the stage. Very good performance by the Amics de la Uniò children's choir directed by Josep Vila in his delicious intervention of Act I, taken up in the introduction to Turandot's imposing aria "In this palace".