Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Turandot @ Royal Opera, London

22, 27, 29 December 2008, 2, 5, 8, 12 January 2009

Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

I can’t remember the last time such a wonderfully musical Turandot graced the Covent Garden stage. There was an audible groan from the audience when it was announced that Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin was too unwell to sing the titular role but any sense of disappointment soon evaporated.

We were lucky that British soprano Elizabeth Connell bravely agreed to step in at the last minute. She was amazing and scored a massive personal triumph. Many Turandots possess the necessary laser-like quality for the start of ‘In questa reggia’ but piercing top notes are not enough, as the role also calls for delicate phrasing and plenty of soft singing, not always part of the armoury of most dramatic sopranos. Connell’s house debut in the role was all the more remarkable for its scrupulous attention to detail.

Not only did she produce the necessary piercing high notes, but it was her humanity, gloriously soft singing and utter musicality that impressed the most. At this stage in her career she is in remarkably fine fettle, acted the role to perfection and rightly won the hearts and minds of the audience.

She was lucky to have the strongest set of supporting singers that has graced Andrei Serban’s twenty-four year old production for some time. José Cura as Calaf was on top form, producing some spine-tingling sounds and it was a pleasure that he actually sang ‘Nessun Dorma’ as if it meant something; his sensitive use of vibrato and understanding of the text puts many other tenors to shame and whether displaying his husky baritonal-tenor voice at mezza voce or full throttle, the results were thrilling.

Svetla Vassileva was a touching Liu and Paata Burchuldaze a grave and sonorous Timur whilst Giorgio Caoduro stood out as Ping. Veteran Welsh tenor Robert Tear made his mark as the Emperor Altoum, in what will be his farewell performances for the company.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti galvanised the superbly augmented chorus and orchestra to give a rip-roaring performance. Never before have I heard so much orchestral detail and what a score! Dissonances vie with highly original takes on Eastern music to make this not only Puccini’s greatest score, but one of the most original of the twentieth century.

This is the third time I’ve seen this spectacular production, the first was twenty years ago and it still remains as vivid, colourful and breathtaking as it did then. All in all, a vintage revival and definitely worth a visit although check online to see who is singing Turandot. Keep your fingers crossed you get Connell!

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