The Met Opera’s latest faithful revival of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1987 production remains a sight to behold along with every other sensory overload you can imagine as the volume is most definitely turned up to 11 and beyond.
In legendary Peking, any prince seeking to marry Princess Turandot (Liudmyla Monastyrska) must answer three riddles: if he fails, he will die. Among the crowd Calàf (Yonghoon Lee) discovers his long-lost father, Timur (Ferruccio Furlanetto). As the latest failed suitor goes to his death, the crowd implore the princess to spare him, but she orders the execution to proceed. Calàf is transfixed by her beauty and decides to win her heart. Timor and the slave girl Liù (Ermonela Jaho) as well as the ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong try to discourage him.
Whilst the three ministers dream of their country homes, the noise of the gathering crowd draws them back to reality as Turandot arrives for the riddle ceremony. After Calàf answers all three correctly, the princess begs her father, the Emperor, not to give her to the stranger. Calàf offers her a challenge of his own: if she can learn his name by dawn, he will forfeit his life.
Whilst the ministers try to bribe Calàf to leave the city, soldiers drag in Timur and Liù who refuse to reveal his identity. Turandot confronts Calàf who impetuously kisses her. Feeling emotion for the first time, the ice maiden appears to melt and Calàf reveals his true identity: as dawn breaks and the court assembles, will true love really come to the fore?
Zeffirelli’s fantasy setting of a Chinese imperial court provides the greatest spectacle of all with no expense spared in its gilded terraces and cleverly lit water features, as it stands in towering majesty on the stage taking advantage of all the available technology the Met has to offer: the construction time between Act I and Act II alone results in a 45-minute interval.
The court itself is replete with everyone you can imagine from liveried attendants through to ladies in waiting; from dancers through to acrobats; whilst lower down countless peasants gather, their darker dress reflective of their poverty and mood, to create a wondrous chorus that in conjunction with the orchestra, led with some panache by conductor Marco Armiliato, blows you away at every turn. For all the wonderful music that Puccini has provided here – bearing in mind it was unfinished at his death and was completed from his detailed notes – Zeffirelli matched in terms of action and drama which remains impressive as we approach the third anniversary of his death.
The principal singers are all up to the task vocally and in terms of tonight’s production, well beyond that too. Lee’s strong and determined voice grew from Act I as the ardour and confidence of Calàf increases and his ‘Nessun Dorma’ ranked well alongside the many famous names that have preceded him in the role.
Liudmyla Monastyrska was truly imperious and demonstrated well the extent of her vocal range in some demanding arias, whilst Furlanetto initially provided a friendly presence before bursting into life as tragedy unfolded. The standout for me was Ermonela Jaho who as the loyal and smitten Liù sung delightfully throughout with her Act I ‘Signore, ascolta’ deservedly receiving audience applause.
Special mention to costume designers Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri whose attention to detail was outstanding and to choreographer Chiang Ching who brought this enormous cast together as one in what was a visual delight.
The Metropolitan Opera are live streaming a number of their productions throughout their 2021-22 season, further details https://www.metopera.org/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 7th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★