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CLASSICAL  March 2001

CLASSICAL March 2001

Subject:

Turandot...Shmurandot

From:

Walter Meyer <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 25 Mar 2001 01:02:04 -0500

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This evening (2/24/01) I attended the Washington Opera's performance of
*Turandot* at the Kennedy Center.  Heinz Fricke (whom I had heard a few
days before at a Wagner Society lecture chatting about his life in opera)
conducted.  Liu was sung, to an overwhelming standing, vocal ovation, by
Ana Maria Martinez; Calaf, by Ian DeNolfo; Timur, by Rosendo Flores; Ping,
by Daniel Mobbs; Pang, by Matthew Lord; Pong, by Corey Evan Rotz; The
emperor, by Robert Baker; and Turandot, by Xiu Wei Sun.

For me, *Turandot* must vie w/ *Magic Flute* for the most preposterous
plot at least among the operas that I know.  (I'm aware of Anna Russell's
"I'm not making this up, you know" quip in her discussion of Wagner's
*Ring*, but the Ring's plot is totally plausible, once we accept the
premise of Wotan's obsession w/ the imminent downfall of the gods and the
ring's curse.) Turandot, the Chinese princess, to avenge a wrong done to
a female ancestor "thousands of years ago" ("or son mill'anni e mille"),
decrees that she will only marry the man who can guess three riddles she
proposes and that any suitor failing to do so will have his head chopped
off.  There is nevertheless, no dearth of suitors, whose heads decorate
the battlements in the first scene.  The last such is the opera's "hero",
Calaf, who falls under her spell as he sees her refusing to commute the
sentence of the previous unsuccessful suitor.

One glimpse of the princess and, like Tom Lehrer's Gustav, he concludes
"Das ist the Fraeulein I moost have!" Against all odds, Calaf, just at this
time bumps into his long lost father, an exiled king, and his devoted
"slave" Liu, who takes care of the father because of her crush on Calaf,
who had once smiled at her.  She sings a heart-breakingly beautiful aria
trying, unsuccessfully, to dissuade him from his suit, lest he too wind up
executed.  Calaf guesses all three riddles correctly, at which Turandot
grows furious whereupon Calaf, ever the gentleman, agrees to release her
from her sworn obligation and to re-forfeit his life if she can determine
his name by next morning.  When Turandot's praetorian guards torture Liu
to force her to reveal Calaf's name, she manages to break free and kill
herself.  Calaf is so moved by this act of sacrifice that he redoubles
his pursuit of Turandot and forces a kiss.  This breaks Turandot's spirit
and Calaf, in another fit of gallantry, reveals his name to her, but she
chooses not to take advantage of the imparted information and there's the
opera's "happy ending."

So much for the plot.  How about the music? Well, I believe it's considered
on the same level w/ *Tosca*, *La Boheme*, and *Butterfly*.  I'd put it a
few notches lower.  The opera is big on spectacle.  I couldn't place where
the Emperor's voice was coming from at first until I realized that he was
perched on a gigantic medallion hanging like a mobile from the stage
ceiling.  And it has its share of choral and ensemble singing that, IMO,
simply doesn't have the sparkle or "bite" that we would find in the
ensemble music of Verdi or Mozart, w/ the exception of the poignantly
beautiful lament by the three ministers, Ping, Pang, and Pong at the
beginning of the second act.  That episode, Liu's arias, and Calaf's
"Nessun dorma" are for me the all too brief shining points of this opera.
Totally aside from the lady's being a bitch, I find nothing particularly
enchanting in any of Turandot's arias, not even "In questa reggia".

Turandot was sung, as I wrote earlier, by Xiu Wei Sun.  I would have liked
to have heard it sung by Alexandra Marc (nee Judith Borden) who also sang
the role in other Washington Opera performances.  In an interview published
in *The Washington Opera* she stated:

   "....My interpretation is pretty much different from anyone else's.

   "I see her human side as well, unlike others who are rather
   monochromatic in interpretation--the ice princess, cold, harsh, not
   feeling.  For me, it never made much sense to interpret her that way,
   given the fact that Calaf falls in love with her.  Nothing makes
   sense unless she shows her vulnerability, her femininity, her ability
   to soften at some juncture.  But I don't think most people see her
   that way."

I too had trouble figuring out why Calaf fell in love w/ her until it
occurred to me that he was essentially cut from the same cloth as the
princess.  Only a person thinking like the princess could have figured
out her three riddles, which were really susceptible of several answers of
equal validity.  But the key came in the last act when Ping, Pang, and Pong
try to dissuade him from pursuing his quest, offering him women, wealth,
and power (elsewhere), if he would only withdraw.  When these bribes fail
they appeal to his sense of compassion explaining the tortures, etc., the
people would have to bear under the princess' anger, whereupon our hero
responds "If the world should collapse, I want Turandot" ("Crolasse il
mondo, voglio Turandot"!).  Clearly, the two deserve each other.

Next Saturday, I'll be attending *Don Carlo* and the Saturday after that,
*Marriage of Figaro*.

Walter Meyer

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