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What I Did For Love

January 30, 2011

Lise Lindstrom in Act III of Turandot Photo: Cory Weaver/SDO 2011

It’s a Turandot kind of year in California. Puccini’s final unfinished opera will be seen nearly everywhere including San Francisco in the Fall and this summer at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles with Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a concert performance starring Christine Brewer. But before all of this, San Diego Opera got the first say in this year’s Turandot bonanza when their 2011 season opened on Saturday night with an attractive and highly enjoyable production. Despite the promised star power in the other two later this year, this Turandot will be hard to beat. There are two primary reasons to see this show, the first being David Hockney’s colorful and very enticing sets, which are populated with equally bright costumes designed by Ian Falconer. The set design was originally seen in 1992 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a co-production with San Francisco Opera where the show was filmed in 1993 starring Eva Marton. Hockney made important contributions to the opera stage throughout the 1980s and 1990s all over America and it is a testament to his vision that these same productions such as his Tristan und Isolde and The Rake’s Progress continue to be lovingly revived in cities around the world. The stage is never dull to look at and his candy-colored vision eschews any tired naturalism in an opera that couldn’t be any farther from it if it tried. Best of all, Hockney has a great sense of focusing attention on the primary action on stage where it belongs without muddling things with too much detail.

Lise Lindstrom as Turandot Photo: Cory Weaver/SDO 2011

San Diego’s other big asset on opening night was one of the best Turandots around, Lise Lindstrom. The American soprano made a big splash in this same role at The Metropolitan Opera in 2009, and she recreates that same excitement here. She has the voice to actually sing the part and never once shouts or barks to be heard over the orchestra. Furthermore she looks the part, leaving no one wondering why Calaf is so preoccupied with her to start with. Lindstrom sometimes faded in the lower end of her range, but this was a performance absolutely worth seeing and remembering. Better yet, I'm told she will return to San Diego in 2012 for Salome which should definitely be worth seeing. The rest of the Turandot cast was reasonable with a confident Carlo Ventre as Calaf. His “Nessun Dorma” got the job done and he remained athletic and energetic all evening. Ermonela Jaho’s Liu was popular with the audience for its showy high notes though I found her sound a little unstable in some of those moments.

The chorus, which was led by Charles Prestinari sounded great, which is particularly good news considering how much music Puccini gave them to sing here. Edoardo Müller conducted the San Diego Symphony Orchestra with a relaxed feeling throughout, never overpowering the vocalists. He may have been overly deferential at times, underselling some of the score's biggest and most dramatic moments, but it was still a solid and admirable performance. Lotfi Mansouri's direction tended towards the prosaic, but in an opera that is very much about pageantry it wasn't as noticable as it could have been otherwise. On the whole, San Diego's new Turandot is a pretty satisfying evening at the opera and there are three more performances through Sunday Feb 6. I'm told the next performance is already sold out, so, if you're in town, you should move fast on the remaining tickets for next weekend.



Why does Turandot always wear such a ridiculous headdress? (This isn't one of the three riddles, btw)
San Francisco will be using the Hockney again, according to the season announcement and the web site.
Though it might make a good one. One might think looking over most of the major sopranos to have sung the role that the answer lies in finding a plausible reason why Calaf is so obsessed with this particular woman. The big shiny headdress distracts him. I could be wrong about this though.
Hi Lisa,

On closer inspection I see that you are quite correct and I was sucked in by the photo they are using in the press materials of Irene Theorin. I think that's probably good news since from what I've read of the ROH production, the Hockney set are far more interesting. I stand corrected.
Turandot wears a headdress because this is part of the traditional Chinese garb for women in the royal court. It is a beautiful part of their culture and history.
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