Puccini’s last opera is the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre’s last premiere of the season. Although the composer did not complete this, his last opera, it is considered by the critics to be one of his most important works. Shortly before his death, he wrote in a letter to the opera’s librettist, Giuseppe Adami, that everything he had written before looked even to him like a farce compared to the music he was in the process of writing.
Turandot, which is popular all over the world, only recently saw its Lithuanian premiere. It was put on by a team of artists from abroad who had never worked together. The musical leader and conductor Stefan Lano, from Switzerland, is also a composer and a pianist. The Berlin-based director Detlef Sölter studied the history of theatre, journalism, musicology and singing. The set designer Friedrich Despalmes, from Vienna, is also a painter, singer, actor and director, who has tried his hand at all these arts in Austria and Germany. Monika Biegler, also from Vienna, designed the costumes.
Put on in record time – only four weeks – the production’s budget was a far cry from the seven-figure numbers which prestigious theatres can afford. On the eve of the premiere, Sölter said that very often Turandot was put on on heavy sets with lots of kitsch, through which it was impossible to see the opera’s protagonists. “We did not want to reproduce Peking in Vilnius, and tried to avoid the ‘Chinese restaurant’ look.”
The director focused his efforts on showing the complex character of Princess Turandot. When Puccini wrote the opera, he was familiar with the theories of psychoanalysis, and with the ideas of the reformers in music, such as Stravinsky and others. He aimed to distance himself from the old opera canons.
Sölter and his team went for minimalist sets, with grey prevailing: no details or oriental frills. The costumes alone were elaborate, with some stylish historical accessories and strong make-up through which some soloists became almost unrecognisable.
The sets reflect the evolution of the character of the cruel Princess Turandot, from the cold and dark, like winter frost, in Act 1 to the spring-like rebirth of the feelings and the soul in the last scene.
The set was put to good effect in highlighting the dynamics of the feelings and the evolution of the characters of the protagonists. In Act 1, Turandot is seen high above the ground, looking more like a cold and distant moon. In Act 3 the action takes place on the stage, with all the characters walking on the ground, and shows their earthly emotions.
Turandot is the bloodiest production so far to be put on in Vilnius’ opera house. The crowd wading through blood, the blood-spattered walls and stairs, the guillotine, the severed head of yet another bridegroom: all serve to emphasise the princess’ character.
This production is yet another opportunity for the opera company to show off its prima donna, Irena Milkevièiûtë. Her impeccable rendition of the part of Princess Turandot and her subtle acting were appreciated by critics and the audience alike.
The tenors Oleg Kulko, of the Bolshoi Theatre, and Vytautas Kurnickas sang the dramatic part of Prince Calaf. Sigutë Stonytë earned praise for her beautiful rendition of the part of Liu, the young slave girl. The baritone Vytautas Juozapaitis sang the part of Ping, the Grand Chancellor.
To sum up, it could be claimed that the production of this complex opera was successful in all respects.