Now that you've seen the show, here's your chance to write a review or comment on someone else's.
The connection to fascism is interesting. Although it is well known that Puccini was a member of the early fascist party, there doesn't seem to be research concerning fascist elements specifically in Turandot. Whether Christopher Alden references fascism in Turnandot as a matter of exploring cultural history, or he is trying to expose Puccini is still a question. Knowing that Nazi references were built into the production of The Flying Dutchman seems to suggest that these are meant to scandalize the composer to a certain extent. It would be like honoring Woody Allen by re-producing one of his great films after his death, but throughout the entire movie referencing his incestuous motivations. Nevertheless, it makes this production of Turandot interesting.
I'm revisiting these comments after posting over 2 weeks ago. Kudos to Portland Opera for providing a feedback mechanism for us opera fans. I'm one of the folks below who was very critical of the staging. And I still stand by my comments. But I will say that if these occasional missteps are the price to pay for taking risks then I'm fine with that. I don't want to go to an opera where everything is safe, sterilized, and traditional. I can't stand it when Aida means "bring out the cute elephants!" I'll take my chances on the infrequent bombs like this in exchange for daring and transcending performances like Nixon in China, Dialog of the Carmelites, or the amazing Faust of 6 or so years ago. My wife and I bought season tickets for next year and we're very excited about it. So go Portland Opera. Take chances. We can take it.
I too thought this was a terrible production. The music and singing are a different matter but I think Portland Opera needs to think twice about hiring Christopher Alden again- this was just as bad if not worse than the Flying Dutchman he did a while back.
I can't understand the negative reviews for Portland Opera's recent production of Turandot. First, I have never heard the orchestra sound better. Second, given the story of a prince who decides to risk death to obtain a princess clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and in need of therapy, why would one want the characters to be portrayed other than they way this production had them. How could Turandot have been staged during the answering of the riddles other than as extremely distraught and almost incapacitated. This acting and the costume she wore (a very restricting and conservative looking outfit) were perfect to represent the psychological state of this character.
I have to say, I also loved the Flying Dutchman.
Given the recent performances of Nixon in China (a much more interesting production than that of Sellars at the Met), Glass Orphee, Bernstein T. in Tahiti, and the Pagliaci/Orff this year, I am very impressed by programming, the direction, and quality of the Portland Opera. I hope that you continue to challenge local opera goers and that you are able to maintain your high quality work.
I am afraid you are one of very, very few who liked the production. Personally, I believe traditional opera should be performed with the set and costumes similar to what the composer had in mind and the original feel of the music dictates - Turdandot was never intended to be presented like this. The music and singing just didn't connect with the sets and costumes. More contemporary operas can be performed with a more modern feel. I just hope the Portland Opera doesn't lose too many subscribers because of how this production was staged.
Take a look at Domingo's Turandot performed by the N.Y. Met, it's on tape, and decide for yourself which opera conveyed the most emotion, the most drama, the most believable settings/costumes, etc., so much so that your heart and head felt filled to the brim. It you decide it's the Portland Opera production, then we live on different planets and nothing more needs to be said.
We agree with every single one of the negative comments thus far stated. We has not read any reviews of the opera beforehand and had no idea that this site even existed until Christopher Mattaliano mentioned it at the performance. Yet, point for point, we had every one of the same negative reactions to the performance as everyone else who previously commented. This is the worst opera performance that we have ever seen in over 50 years of being opera fans (Alden's The Flying Dutchman, is now the second worst for us). We were lookinf so forward to last night. We had called last summer to complain that there were only going to be three main opera's this season instead of four. We were reassured that the reason for this was that it would enable the company to hire the best performers and offer the highest quality performances. Since Turandot was the last opera of the season, we expected it would be the highlight of the season. We planned to celebrate valentine's day by going to this opera. We were both so upset by the performance that it not only ruined our whole evening, but disturbed our sleep and has continued to eat away at us ever since. We really, really love opera. Going to opera performances is a real highlight of each year for us. We have been season ticket holders for many years. Now, we are seriously wondering if we should continue to be subscribers after what we were subjected to last night. Like many others, we actually feel like asking for our money back!!!
I had been looking forward to seeing Puccini's "Turandot" for almost a year. Everyone told me that the costumes were fantastic, that I'd be blown away. Ha! And to think I was ready to be upset about Alfano's hack ending...
The only word to describe my emotions is: flabbergasted. Some new age costuming freak had the grand idea to reset the theme from historic China to Roaring 20's. And it was... awful. Only the Mandarin and the Kings looked as they should have, and it was a mean tease, showing us how it could have been but wasn't.
Round boy Calaf looked like a bloated tick ready to pop in his shiny black leather duster. He had adopted some strange mannerism of grabbing the sides of the duster and wrapping it around himself; this made him look like a PETULANT bloated tick. Some sit-ups are in order. Act 1, scene 1, he is suppose to rush over to his father, Timur, and assist him after he's fallen down, but it looked more like he was wrenching dear old Daddy's arm off.
Turandot looked like a chunky Eva Peron. Blonde... I ask you, what kind of IDIOT decided she should be blonde?!? And the faux-Russian-style pink mink stole and cap for her first entrance was not entrancing in the least. It looked like a flamingo threw up on her! Hello everyone, meet Molly Ringwald in her later years! This was not a woman who could walk through a room and turn heads, stop conversations, or make a man willing to forfeit his life from one glance.
(Oh, and it might have been due to the crazy funhouse tilted floor, but everyone walked like they had arthritis, with these bizarre short, jerking/halting steps, and none so much as our not-quite Prima Donna.)
Liu. Her withdrawn, servile head-ducking trait made her neck disappear. The change from the white dress to same-style-but-in-screaming-RED was nun to whore. And the way she kept petting people made me cringe; I wouldn't let this woman touch me.
The chorus... oh Lord, I could be here for weeks. Stark white dress shirts, thin black neckties, and black slacks or mid-calf black skirts. The women all had hideous wigs: brunette bobs with bangs; I suppose it was to make Turandot stand out, epic fail there. And then they're writhing on the stage in a office orgy; one guy was rubbing himself off on the executioner's axe... so very, very wrong. The only thing that could have been worse were the pajamas: shock white, square-styled, not fitted... they looked like zombies.
Ping, Pang, and Pong: I'll admit that color-coordinating everything was a humorous touch, but the chosen colors? Lime green, mustard yellow, and aquamarine. Three-piece suits, by the way, and full-length fur coats dyed to match. I was getting mental flashes to Chicago gansters saying, "It's curtains for ya, Sunny Jim. This here's my tommy-gun, see? We'll fit'cha with a pair a concrete galoshes if ya sing like a canary, see?"
Not a lot of movement besides the chorus orgy, which is too bad - Calaf could have used the exercise. Instead, they were continually bringing out chairs. I especially despise the PURPLE chairs for the judging of the riddles.
So, what did I do? I shut my eyes. And, complete honesty, they sounded OUTSTANDING! But I should have saved myself the drive to Portland, the ticket, and the horribly disappointing costume and set, and bought the CD instead.
My wife and I both agree that out of the 100 or so opera performances that we have attended, this Turandot production was hands-down the most tasteless, incompetent staging that we have ever witnessed. Nothing else even comes close. No need to reiterate what was said in the majority of the earlier posts.
We've been season subscribers for 10 years, but I think it's time to part company. We have seen many quality productions here, but the cheesy ones seem to be creeping in more and more frequently. This time they have utterly trashed one of the great operatic works. Fortunately we haven't renewed for next season yet. I don't think we'll be coming back to the Keller anytime soon. We'll be making the drive to Seattle for our opera fix instead.
Art is not always easy, but entertainment is. And, yes, it’s a human trait to want the security of the familiar but, opera is an interpretive art form. You do not have to like a particular production (and judging by the plenitude of blog offerings, many who attended Turandot did not), but one was, in fact, offered an opportunity to think and grow no matter how uncomfortable it made you. I for one was intrigued, exited, and awakened by what I heard and saw.
I saw my first Turandot in the early 70’s at the Chicago Lyric and was turned into pillar of salt in the 8th row when Birgit Nielson made her grand, Act II entrance to sing “In questa regia” - no wallflower she. I have since seen many productions of the opera and have some experience with which to compare. And yes, in case you are wondering, I had brought with me several changes of underwear just in case….but I digress….
Mythology that is well told invites many interpretations and Puccini, folding the story into the nascent rise of fascist Italy, made a powerful and prescient statement. He liked to shock his audiences. No one will ever convince me that this was not part of his design for this great work. And as for Puccini turning over in his grave….well, I think he would more likely be revitalized. The courageous Portland Opera and its bold Board - using the Welch Opera concept - certainly stripped away the war horse, fairy tale Chinoiserie and presented a compelling, gutsy telling of the tale. Honestly, I had never really thought the work through until I saw this production that in its fantastic way finally made the story make some sense in the context of the opera.
And they did it extremely well. Bravo to Maestro Vordoni for leading the orchestra to a clarifying and subtle rendition of the lush score. Musicians have to be excited and stimulated to play the way they did with all the fire that is required in the pit when Puccini is being performed. I heard nuanced and subtle music in the interpretation that I have not heard before. The chorus was terrific.
And the soloists? They sang incredibly well for having to portray characters that are in a zombie trance of denial. Why not show them this way? How else could they do the things that they have done and are doing? And as for churlish comments about Ms. Phillips age, well, let a thirty year old sing that part – a Queen of the Night on steroids – and she will not have a voice at age thirty two. Ping, Pang and Pong were adroit in their choreography and sang with panache. Did not their Chinese red desks exploit the sense of their profession, and who could not be moved by the stage direction of them putting black hankerchiefs over the photos of their far away homes?
Look! You can try to hide the psycho killer Turandot, the codependent Liu, and the testerone junkie Calaf beneath some of the most spectacular opera music ever written as has been repeated for years and years. I would call that entertainment. Use that incredible music as an ironic foil to what can only be described as a truly hideous story with deeply disturbed central characters and one has the opportunity to awaken to the reality of a new vision, however disturbing. I call that art.
And isn’t that one of the commandments for living in Portland anyway? You know: expose yourself to art!!
This is helpful insight, thank you.
I can assure the early reviewers of Turandot that those of us who attended later showings were entirely capable of coming to our own conclusions about the performances. Please. I sat through Act I wondering if I were the only one that was aghast at what was being presented. I loved the music, as always, but I was saddened that Portland Opera had failed so terribly in presenting Turandot. The Portland Opera subscribers and attendees deserve better. Portland Opera please listen to your supporters. We are not all so influenced as to let early reviews determine our own experience.
Puccini is my favorite composer of opera because of his beautiful music and the passion it exudes. I heard the beautiful music from the orchestra pit, they were excellent, but I did not feel it from your production. Just the opposite. You took all beauty and passion away with your 1930's German-like setting, monotone costuming, and stilted blocking, and the big face pictures. They were so distracting to me, I had to close my eyes so I could just hear the music instead. The tenor barely moved out of his chair, and showed no emotion. There was no chemistry between him and Turandot: no acting and movement between them which showed any crescendo of tension building up because, let's face it, Puccini is all about Drama. Turandot's entrance in Act II should have been absolutely dramatic; but instead, she just walked in wearing some dreadful outfit that looked like she was the head of the typing pool (Ping, Pang, Pong). I've seen and heard all of Puccini operas, and perhaps it isn't fair to compare a local production to, say, the one Placido Domingo did with the N.Y. Met, but you went so far in the other direction, I had to comment. Please stop using those over done Gestapo like sets in your productions - what matters is the emotion in opera; and a few good costumes would help, too.
I was one of the first "reviewers" to post my comments about Turandot after opening night. Since then, I have read all of the subsequent posts, and can't help wondering if those of us who wrote early reviews may have had any influence on those of you who had not yet attended a performance. It may not have been fair to open up the site for reviews before all of the performances had been completed. This may be something which Portland Opera should consider for future productions.
I dislike director's anachronism (19th century or modern staging). Ashland started doing it twenty years ago and it's become a director's cliche. It rarely adds and usually detracts from the experience. Turandot seemed to run out of steam at the end of the last performance. Calaf was wonderful... Lieu was really great! The roles of the kings were confused. Large musical fanfare, weak choral arrangements, doddering king (?!). Why was Turandot costumed as a 19th century English schoolmarm??? When she came out for the 1st act I thought Turandot had been given a nanny as part of the creative staging.
Don't misread me, I love going to the opera and deeply appreciate the Portland Opera Company. If you stick to the written material you won't go far wrong.
La Boheme was performed last year.
Turandot is a story of cruelty by a despot, possessed ruler and a society that has lost it's conscience.
Portland's presentation through the selection of scenery, actors, voices, costumes and tempo was exactly the right approach.
Thank you Mssrs Mattaliano and Alden.
Yes it was a sad evening indeed. Last years La Boheme was a triumph! Simply outstanding. This was musically there, but the stage director obviously didn't get the libretto or something. The dead pan Dragnet style acting imposed on them made them look uncomfortable and did not express what was actually going on. What an odd evening. We can hope to get back to quality of last years Puccini in the future.
Maoist so to speak?-yeah I got that. I liked Puccini's treatment better.
Really?? You weren't disturbed by the odd movements of the choir in the first Act? Or Turandot's costume in the 2nd Act? Or the lack of interaction between the main characters in the most important scenes? Or bothered by Calaf's trench coat? Or the way Calaf's father being horizontal on the stage for nearly the entire performance? Or the way the set looked like the inside of a tin can?
Yes, the coat was bothersome but in the "noise" compared to the overall opera.
I certianly understand your comments and I thought long and hard before the original posting.
I finally decided that there is a distinctly disturbing element at work in this opera that deserves to be portrayed. I believe our guys were trying to do exactly that through their section of the performance elements.
Perhaps they decided against solety presenting entertainment in favor of reality. That is, try and look at what was really happening.
This was unlike any other opera I have seen. Although it was disturbing to me in some respects, I couldn't stop thinking about it and subsequently did some research on the Web about Christopher Alden. The comments above about the fascist elements of the opera and art not always being easy gave me additional insight as well. Though I can't say that all of the elements of this particular opera were appealing to me, I can say that I haven't quite thought about opera, or an opera, as much as I did this one. After reading some of Christopher Alden's quotes about what he seeks to do with opera (The Guardian), I feel like this interpretation of Turandot has changed my views and opened up the concept of opera and art in general to me. I am grateful for that.
How extraordinarily disappointed I was in the recent “Turandot” performance, subjected upon the Portland audiences. My initial excitement hearing the orchestras tune completely evaporated when the curtain rose.
Were we in a high-rise office where everyone wore a white shirt and tie? What on earth were those ugly repetitious portraits in the background?
I closed my eyes and hoped the music would transform my anguish. The uninspired vocals did nothing. No magic evolved anywhere. No passion, no intensity. Pedestrian would be a kind and charitable description.
I counted down the time until the end of the first act and left. The audience politely applauded. In Paris, the audience would have roundly booed this “Turandot” performance.
My first three performances of “Turandot” were at the San Francisco Opera House on 1977, featuring Luciano Pavarotti and Monseeat Cabellé (singing together for the first time).
These unique performances lavished upon me THE most exciting opera in my over 30 years of attending opera.
Lighting bolts hurled throughout the entire house. Pavarotti’s voice completely filled the entire house. Caballé’s voice wafted as a feather, growled with fury, vulnerable, controlling. The Grandest of the Grand.
While the Portland Opera is not the San Francisco Opera, the Portland Opera often presents perfectly performed and staged opera. For me, the recent performances of “Rigoletto” and “Pagliacci/Carmina Burans” were among the most wonderful opera performances I’ve attended anywhere.
However, this recent performance of “Turandot” presented an abysmal misinterpretation of everything. Egregious, pathetic, pretensions, amateur.
I have been going to the opera with my mother since I was in college. I have seen Turandot many times, both in Portland and abroad. This was by far the worst production I have ever been to. The set looked like the inside of a tin can, the costumes were terrible, and I didn't understand why the main characters were sitting during what was suppose to be very emotional scenes (Calaf sitting in a chair while Liu kills herself for example). Why did Turandot look so elderly in Act II? The purple velvet suit was completely inappropriate, the white hair in a bun made her look like a grandmother rather than a love interest, and she even moved like she had arthritis. Also, what was up with the trench coat for Calaf? He kept pulling it across his stomach and crossing his arms... he looked insecure and unsure... not someone who was burning with love. The music and most of the singing was great, so my Mom and I kept closing our eyes in order to try to appreciate it. This is the only opera I own on CD, and the only one I have ever enjoyed just sitting and listening to. I was really looking forward to seeing it, and it broke my heart to have witnessed such a visual disappointment.
At this point there doesn't seem much left to say, except to reiterate that the directorial ineptitude of this production was staggering beyond anything I've seen in my many opera-going years. Although the singers and the orchestra struggled gamely forward against all odds, even competent musicianship could not overcome the inappropriate choices made my Christopher Alden's stage direction. His choices ranged from absurd (chorus members lurching in slow motion through much of act one) to artistically questionable (the mish-mash of costumes, the ridiculously spartan set, and the questionable time period), to just plain wrong (principals singing entire arias while facing upstage, major arias and duets being sung while seated twisted around in chairs, and staging that prohibited entire sections of the audience from seeing large portions of important actions). It would be incorrect to think that the major amount of criticism leveled at this show stems from an aversion to attempting something new, creative, or culturally relevant. While creating a new interpretation of a show is a valid and often constructive artistic undertaking, it must be done with careful attention to the themes of the opera, the musical integrity of the score, and an accurate reflection of the libretto. All of these were ignored last night. I've been a season subscriber for three years, and in those years I've managed to ignore the continually questionable staging and setting of many operas because I was so enamored of the joie de vivre of the energetic performers and the professionalism of the orchestra. However, with the travesty that was Turandot I am respectfully choosing to discontinue my subscription.
Interesting set. Somewhere in Bangladesh a few shacks are missing their roofs...
And the costumes - good God! Portland Opera has a reputation for cutting corners, I guess, so it shouldn't have surprised us. When we saw Norma we were shocked to see that they didn't even have enough cloth to cover the guards' buttocks. Disgusting.
At least the musicians did their job well, and I was able to enjoy the music by closing my eyes. However, as long as Portland Opera continues to short-change their customers with wretchedly stark sets and costumes that look like leftovers from Mao's cultural revolution, I can't see the point in going back. Have they forgotten that opera was invented to celebrate beauty in sound and sight?
Wow, was I disappointed. I gave tickets to Turandot to my husband for Christmas. It's his favorite -- or should I say, it was until last night. It's true that the chorus and orchestra were wonderful, but as everyone says -- the staging was awful for all the reasons mentioned. The connection between the characters was non-existent; how in the world can Calaf sit seemingly disinterested and unaffected in a chair while Liu is sacrificing her life for him? What were you thinking, offering us a matronly-looking Turandot (she's much younger looking in real life!) dressed for Ladies Who Lunch, with ash blond hair? Aren't we in China? (although how could one tell given the confusing and boring sets and costumes?) When she arrived on stage, my husband and I looked at each other and whispered, "who's she?" Turandot had no mother, that we could recall, but given the bizarre staging, might we not suspect that you'd take this liberty with the libretto? Why would someone risk his life for an ice queen who looked (and moved, for that matter) like his grandma? I thought the gallery of other foolish young men who had tried and failed to win this monster's love reminded me of a Benetton ad -- only without the diversity. My husband thought the scene was set in a modern day post office, with wanted posters. The final scene with cast carrying the photos (posters?) made no sense. The only singing worth really listening to was Liu, who seemed to rise above the nonsense to give a gorgeous performance, which proves she's a gifted actress as well as singer. Indeed, Puccini must be thrashing about in his grave!
Dear Portland Opera and Christopher,
Let's start with the good parts: Grazia Doronzio was excellent as Liu. Ping, Pang, and Pong were delightful. Carl Halvorson was wonderful and the emperor. And the Opera Chorus was as good, or better, than I have ever heard them.
Now for the rest:
Set: Really? Corrugated metal? It looked like they were singing in a big Campbell's soup can. Zero sense of the grandeur of the royal court, the Forbidden City, the Emperor (Son of Heaven, for god's sake). And the set diminished the size and scope of the opera. The sight lines were atrocious. House right missed ALL of Turandot's entrances and could not see her at all for the final scene in Act 3. Ridiculous.
Costumes: Just exactly what period were you going for? Traditional Dynasty (Emperor, Timur, Mandarin guard)? Maoist China (chorus)? 1987 (Calaf)? Buenos Aires circa 1945 (Turandot)? What a jumbled mess.
Turandot: Did you really intend for her to look like Eva Peron in Act 2? Do you know that the audience laughed when she came on stage? She is the daughter of the Emperor...you made her look like Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's secretary. Ugh. Nothing sexy or forbidden or exotic or ROYAL here. How anyone could possibly think that this woman is worth risking their life for is beyond me.
Calaf: If Portland Opera uses a leather (pleather?) trench coat again on the lead tenor I will refuse to attend another performance. My group of patrons decided that he looked like he had ascended from his mother's basement in Gresham, where he had been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1983, hopped in his car and walked on stage. No facial expressions. No emotion. And, pray tell, why did he sing "Nessun Dorma" SEATED in a purple chair? Given how pedestrian and ugly Calaf was, it now makes sense that he would be enamored with an old matron in a bad purple dress.
What were you thinking? Were you thinking? The lobby, Facebook, and the after show conversations that I heard (and I heard quite a few) were scathing in their assessments of this shoddy production. Sad because the music was outstanding...but everything else was a dreadful disaster.
Portland Opera is capable of so much better. Someone (everyone) was asleep. Your costumer should be fired for starters.
I'd like to add that directors who use anachronism as a substitute for the hard work of staging and choreography should be on the short list too.
I just got back from the final performance of Turandot. It wasn't my favorite production that I've seen at PO, but it definitely not the worst. Turandot's plot isn't really about realism, so I don't have any real qualms about the direction that they took with it. However, I personally don't like it when the staging is doing something directly contrary to the text. There were several moments where this was the case, as many people have already mentioned.
I'm pretty amused at all the old classicists getting up in arms about the production. In fact, if more of PO's older ticket holders knew how to use the internet, the flamefest would rise to higher heights.
Just ask yourself this one question: Did this production get me talking about the opera? I'm willing to bet that this production inspired more discussion than any of this years productions. That is worth a lot.
Leaving the ageist barb aside, is evoking ire and contempt success? When you are daunted by the challenge of creating choreography and staging equal to the music the easy out is to change the theme and make a controversy out of the production. I see it as a big cop-out.
We just returned from Turandot and we agree with many of the adverse comments regarding staging. It was a little hokey in many respect. I detest smoking in stage productions or film; it implies wrong thing to the impressionable. Furthermore, such devices as feeble oldster hobbling about the stage detract from the production. As far as I am concerned there is no reason to have the same stage designer return.
Grazia Doronzio as Liu was superb and the orchestra was also superb, but the other voices were not. This was my third time seeing Turandot. Thank goodness I had seen it elsewhere first.
By the way, we are season ticket holders and donors. If all productions were like this one, we would not be. If I want to see poorly done opera I can move to Phoenix.
James P. Wishart
I just returned home from Turandot. Portland Opera managed to thoroughly ruin my favorite opera. The staging, sets, and costumes were depressing, ugly, and pathetic. This is supposed to be a fairy tale, not the Khemer Rouge killing fields story. The black and white portraits of dead white men were sophomoric at best and featuring them at the end of the opera totally ruined the finale. The sheer ugliness of this production severely distracted from the beauty of the music. The couple next to us walked out and we only coped by keeping our eyes closed most of the time. Portland Opera's inconsistency and ability to put on horrendous productions on a regular basis keeps me from being a subscriber and keeps me going to Seattle and San Francisco for my opera.
Staging SO bad, it overwhelmed the music. Liu was extraordinary, chorus and orchestra outstanding, Turandot and Calaf mediocre. But I would have enjoyed it more had I listened to my friend, who advised wearing a blindfold. The problems with the staging are detailed in other comments, which I would echo. Please, instead of such pointlessly weird staging, give us a concert with top-notch soloists. And please don't invite Mr. Alden to darken the Portland Opera & Keller stage again.
Amen to these comments.
Re Christopher Alden: HEAR! HEAR!
This is the reason I don't become a season subscriber to Portland Opera. I can't trust the company to mount a competent production. This Turandot is not as terrible as the Don Giovanni of 4 or 5 years ago - at least this cast can sing the parts assigned to them - but it is incompetent in the same way: the director is imposing an interpretation upon the opera that is not nearly as clever as he thinks it is and that is not inherent in the music or in the libretto. It is an interpretation that neither supports the music nor the drama, but instead seeks to import some new significance into an opera the director perhaps feels is tired or trite or just too familiar.
And he has compounded that with sophomoric stage action for the chorus, especially in the first act, that is self-conscious and embarrassing, like something in a college drama class. All the major arias were deliberately undercut by direction that emptied them of drama, as though singing to arouse an emotion in the listener - or to fulfill the intentions of the composer and librettist - were somehow suspect. And the stage action so seldom made any sense. (For example: Timur is dying and has hardly been able to take a step all night. After Liu dies, he suddenly stands up, starts singing with vigor, walks across the stage to her, picks up a blanket, covers her up, then dies.)
On a positive note, the Liu was good, the singing of the chorus was good, and this was the first time Ping, Pang and Pong were at all interesting to me (before I've just suffered through their big number in Act Two). The singing of the the Emperor was also good. The Timur, Christopher Van Horn, was the best singer on the stage, even suffering from an ear infection, as was announced before last night's performance. As for Turandot herself, well, it really is a thankless part. Lori Phillips sang quite well without imparting any allure to the role or projecting any charisma (though I think Christopher Alden had expressly forbidden charisma in this production). As for Philip Webb, the director cast him adrift, giving him no proper character motivation or sensible stage direction.
There have been some great productions at Portland Opera in the past(I remember especially the Norma of 4 or 5 year ago with great pleasure), and I salute Christopher Mattaliano for his desire to make opera exciting and, God help us, relevant. But this production was neither exciting nor relevant, even with all those photos of dead men; it is just incoherent and ridiculous.
I thought that I was watching the Turn of the Screw not Turandot. What is generally presented is a fairy tale story where yes, princes get killed, but it isn't realistic so that the romantic love theme predominates. The last scene becomes a glorious celebration of the princesses' discovery of love won out of Lui's sacrifice. The music matches these themes. The Portland Opera production turned the romance into a horror story. The ice princess possessed by the evil spirit of her raped ancestor drags her Father and the Kingdom into a spiral of chaos. Seeing the heads of the slaughtered princes like pictures in a newspaper or from Auschwitz replaced the fairy tale with the horror of death. The citizens were played as trapped in an addiction to violence and horrified at how their world is spinning out of control. The passionless wooden performance by Calaf made me doubt he was capable of real love. The Princess was potrayed as a monster. How could anyone love so tortured a person? The realistic haeds reappear in the last scene so that the uniting of Calaf and Turandot looks like the thriumph of barbarism and the beautiful music was so totally incongruous it almost seemed to be a parody of the original work.
The psychological themes acted out may actually be a picture the callous ruthlessness, and addiction to violence that plagues our culture. It did not fit Pucini's music. People said they were dissappointed for me that was an understatment.
I was so disappointed with the Turnadot production. I love Turnadot, but last night I kept wishing I was anywhere but in the audience. I kept comparing this production to the last one that appeared at the Keller. Okay, I was longing for the same magic. That magic was decidedly lacking this time around. The sets were cheap and uninteresting, not edgy. The staging was bizarre, costumes pitiful. Now lets talk about the casting. I didn't believe the plus size, middle-aged soprano as Turnadot, nor did I believe the stoic, hefty tenor as Calaf. Where was the passion? Where was the love connection? Where was the connection between any of the characters?
Although I agree with many of the individual comments I am somewhat surprised at the overall level of negativity in many of the previous posts. While a lot of facets of this edgy production were unsuccessful I enjoyed seeing new take on an opera that I've seen three other times previously. (Perhaps I am too jaded.) It's clear, however, that camping up a Puccini opera is a sacrilege to a lot of opera lovers. As for me, I love the music and will put up with almost anything to hear it sung live by excellent singers. While Lori Phillips and Philip Webb were not the best Turandot and Calaf I have ever heard (Those happen to have been Birgit Nilsson and Placido Domingo.), they were certainly more than competent. Perhaps they were somewhat penalized for the very unflattering costumes and stilted stage direction. Grazia Doronzio as Liu was just fabulous, one of those young up-and-comers that surprise and delight. Kudos to Chris Mattalliano for for bringing her to Portland. The chorus was as good as it gets, and visually one of the few successful aspects of the staging. The orchestra was fine, although the conductor was a bit slow at times and got out of synch with the singers at one point. Portland Opera is very courageous to encourage the posting of anonymous comments on its web site. I hope that those who read them will not be unduly influenced by the negativity. However, it's clear that Portland audiences are not as adventurous as I for one had thought. While I hope Portland Opera won't lose all willingness to push the envelope, it may be time to rethink too much testing of the sophistication and tolerance of local opera lovers.
Sophistication and tolerance are very different from presenting a confused, messy production. I have seen cutting-edge opera around the world and this was not sophisticated or radical. It was just bad. The singing was generally good-direction was abominable.
Further to my comments earlier...it occurred to me during the first interval when questioned on the point that Turandot's composure and gait could have been deliberate as might befit one whose soul and mind may have been terribly burdened by the guilt she may have felt for the serial killings of all suitors. She must have been very busy. Or perhaps there was no guilt. Imperial China, indeed more recent China, was not squeamish about mass killings of citizens it did not want. A theme that runs down the ages, even today in many countries, I exclude none. And then when two lunatics collide and love intervenes only more madness can ensue. To expect any rational thought from operatic characters may defy ones own rational process. Once more my congrats to the company for trying something different and veering away for the usual trap of singing costume drama with chorus.
I thought the interpretation was rather clever. The problem with Turnadot is its cloying Orientalism (Ping, Pang and Pong, really?) and this interpretation has just a smidge of the silk brocade and crazy eye make-up that can become really annoying. I have to agree with every comment about the stage direction. I expected the chorus to break out into "Thriller" kind of moves ... oh wait, they were. I'm thinking that the director wanted to channel the recent popularity of zombies. Turandot ... and ZOMBIES.
The real problem with the Portland Opera is its patrons. I went on Thursday night and I have never before been subject to so much wet, phlegmy coughing, explosive throat clearing and loud whispering. The lady sitting next to me was humming during the famous arias. COME ON, PORTLANDERS. Even my dog has better manners and farts silently. I just can't go anymore. My irritation prevented me from enjoying the music. This is the first Puccini performance that did not bring me to tears.
Why did you make Turandot look like a 65-year old Brunhilde instead of a 20-year old Chinese princess? When she came in for the riddle scene, she moved as if she had full pants and a tight girdle, and her costume and hairdo made her look at least 80. Fortunately, her voice was good. Calaf's wasn't, particularly, and he looked like an escapee from a motorcycle gang with that greasy hair and leather coat he kept clutching. Liu was a gem. And I hate it when you take all the color out of a glorious opera and "drab it up" to the point of boredom and depression.
Louise, who has had season tickets for 40 years
I have to agree with most of the comments before me. I have seen several performances of Turandot and this was by far the worst. In the opening of the first act, Calaf staggered around the stage clutching his chest looking like Redd Foxx having his "big one" heart attack. Watching the chorus lurch, stumble, weave and flounder about the stage during the first act made me wonder if they hadn't been poisoned and were in the throes of their last moments on earth. A previous comment referencing Barbara Bush was right on.
It is apparent that the budget for this opera couldn't afford sets, costumes, top-notch performers and stage directors at the same time so we ended up settling for mediocre in most areas except for Liu and PPP.
I have a suggestion. When faced with this problem again, spend the money on better feature performers and do the whole production concert style as Les Mis did with their 10th year anniversary concert. If the singers aren't going to act convincingly anyway let them sit down till it’s time for them to sing.
Thanks you for your beautiful Turandot.
I only had to feel a few moments of discomfort as Calaf spurned all the good advice he received—leave quickly and don’t look upon the Evil princess Turandot. But no, they never listen, do they. I always hate these bad choices—but then with my practicality we wouldn’t have opera, nor would we have people’s uprisings. This tale, so beautifully and sparely rendered with it’s reminders of Mussolini’s Italy, the cultural revolution of China, the disappeared of Argentina, quickly turned for me into a tale of this moment’s Egypt.
Ping, Pang and Pong tell us how this sclerotic China is paralyzed by the ridiculous antics of a cruelly frozen regime. Calaf determines to free the people through love, through the human spirit. Of course he is eventually victorious—even if the dramaturges are left troubled by the unrealistic pursuit by Calaf and the sudden transformation of the ice princess. The powerful chorus fills the square at every turn, serving ably as backdrop, populace, musical element and also as haunting humans—both fearful and hopeful, selfish and giving. And as unmeltable as this princess is, she eventually succumbs to the force of love, humanity and dreams. Not of course, before the blood of innocents is spilled shamefully—Liu in China—Neda in Tehran–or the flames of Tunisia’s Bouazizi.
The orchestra was wonderful as was the stage direction and lighting. With this beautiful yet gritty spectacle the slow control of the stage by each performer worked very well. There were many fine voices—Liu and Turandot stood out. I have a few small gripes but this was an inspiring evening.
I loved the music, it conjured up visions of intense swirling color and drama. I feel bad for all the negative criticism that the opera is getting, but when Calaf laments the dying Liu, a woman sacrificing herself for him, and can't even get up out of his chair to express an emotion... what can you say? Maybe the opera was a reflection of the modern world's numbness and insensitivity to passion and heroism. I appreciated the attempt to do a modern interpretation. But for all I cared, the opera could have been performed without any sets or costumes, just relying on the actors' jua di vive. If that is lacking, then it makes the act of watching the opera an exercise in keeping one's eyes pointed forward.
Had the singers been allowed to also act it would have been much more interesting. The fact that Calaf sat stoically while Liu died was just the last straw for me. And Turandot sitting still through the 1st half of her big entrance aria. It was just wierd and out of touch with the story. I don't think the director even knew what the text was saying based on what I saw. Words and actions out of sync throughout.
The music was terrific though. The orchestra and especially the chorus were as good as I've heard.
The whole production was even better than I thought it would be. However, the suit Turandot wears is really unflattering. And the pictures of the dear departed looked like the backdrop from Criminal Minds.
I so love the music the production's minor faults are nothing, especially that wonderful set of arias at the end of the first act.
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