Rupert Goold’s chaotic staging of Turandot for ENO falls flat on its face, and proves to be yet another unrevivable mess of a major repertory piece for the company. Unable to spin any sense of cohesive narrative from Puccini’s final opera, Goold jettisons the plot and creates his own incoherent scenario. Every conceivable Eurotrash clich is present, turning what should have been a landmark in the company’s season into a complete turkey.
Innovative, imaginative and theatrical are three attributes that best describe ENO’s previous staging of Turandot, by Christopher Alden in the ’90s. Alas none of those epithets could be used when attempting to describe this pitiful replacement by Rupert Goold, who proved in his first London directorial foray into the world of opera that he is completely out of his depth. For sheer ineptitude, silliness and lack of cohesion only Sally Potter’s Carmen a couple of seasons ago comes close, but compared to this her staging was a model of restraint and taste.
I am the last person to hanker after a world of never-never Zeffirelli-inspired Chinoiserie but there are a couple of things I think are a given namely that every director needs to be able to tell a story on stage and that the essence of the work in hand is preserved, and that it has to make sense. Despite all its faults, Calixto Bieito’s staging of Don Giovanni ticked all those boxes, but Goold’s version of Turandot fails to tick one.
The decision to set it in a Chinese restaurant was an interesting one but what happened within it, or not as the case may be, left me totally bewildered. Why were members of the chorus dressed as Marilyn Manson, Elvis Presley and Margaret Thatcher along with a few NYPD cops, golf pros and other assorted disparate characters? And what were the chefs in pigs’ heads all about? And the naked guy running around? Why did Liu look as though she’d just crawled out of a skip? What was the point of turning the Emperor Altoum into a wino? None of it made sense – it was a jumble of ideas that should never have made it on to the stage. It was a dead give away from the start that Goold hadn’t the faintest clue what he was doing as he felt it necessary to create the role of the ‘writer’ who wandered amongst the proceedings adding no dramatic relevance whatsoever.
There was no, or precious little, direction of the singers either as far as I could fathom, and they meandered through this hallucinatory nightmare of a show, left to their own devices. Who they were and what motivated them was left to chance which ultimately meant that you didn’t care in their fate. Vocal honours went to Amanda Echalaz as Liu, who gave notice that she has one on the most genuinely exciting spinto voices of her generation her Tosca here next year is awaited with baited breath. Gwyn Hughes Jones looked lost, but sang Calaf with ringing tone if rather blankly, whilst Kirsten Blanck sang the title role very loudly, if not particularly subtly.
Edward Gardner conducted a brash account of the score but it was full of wonderful detail, and the orchestra responded with lusty playing. Indeed the one positive thing about the evening was hearing Puccini’s score live in the theatre, and being reminded that it’s one of the most original and daring of the 20th century.