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Puccini: Turandot (Melbourne 2012) (Graene Murphy, Susan Foster, Rosario La Spina, Hyeseoung Kwon) (Opera Australia: OPOZ56033BD) [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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Melbourne Arts Centre, 20/25th April 2012
Director Graeme Murphy
Turandot Susan Foster
Calaf Rosario La Spina
Liù Hyeseoung Kwon
Timur Jud Arthur
A Mandarin Shane Lowrencev
Ping Andrew Moran
Pang Graeme Macfarlane
Pong David Corcoran
Emperor of China Benjamin Rasheed
Opera Australia Chorus, Children's Chorus,Orchestra Victoria
Conductor Andrea Licata
With Rosario La Spina cast as Calaf, Susan Foster as the icy princess and Hyeseoung Kwon as the loyal slave girl Liù, the singing throughout is superlative.
The choreography and direction of Graeme Murphy is visionary, add the set and costume designs of Kristian Fredrikson, and the lighting of John Drummond Montgomery and this production is glorious in its beauty.
'What a production!...No matter how they wildly they [chorus] are tilting their heads or moving their arms, they sing magnificently…a very impressive Turandot.' --International Record Review, March 2013
Top customer reviews
Of the artistes. I particularly liked La Spina as Calaf. He has a clear tenor and sings very easily. He is quite as good as the lead in any of my other four versions. Kwon is excellent as Liu and is as good as my previous favourite, Fritolli. In other productions Timur makes very little impression, but Jud Arthur really brings the character out. I like his voice. Ping, Pang and Pong sing together nicely, but the whole is better than the individuals. There are better elsewhere and they are somewhat wanting in attire and staging. They are given fancy choreography when it is not really required. Their nostalgic interlude is a disappointment.
Susan Graham does put a bit more light and shade to her voice than Eva Marton, but still pushes too hard for my liking. Still, I have yet to hear the Turandot to whom I would give ten out of ten.
The Emperor Rasheed is also better than most vocally, and his entrance is most impressive.
This is certainly worth having in your collection, but if I could only have one Turandot it would be the Zhubin Mehta version from the forbidden city.
"Great staging in terms of the number of singers and dancers, the costumes, the interplay of flags and the choreography... I almost felt I was there, in China! The voices were beautiful, and I particularly enjoyed those of Turandot (Susan Foster) and Liu (Hyeseoung Kwon)... "
Authenticity was in fact something that several Jury members singled out for special comment:
"The choreography, chorus movements and set design were superb. As always, the music was stirring and delightful. Plus, everyone's movements were very authentically Chinese. The tenor sang beautifully, despite being a bit wooden -- unlike Timus his father, who moved me to tears with his farewell... All in all I found this performance quite thrilling."
Yes, there were one or two reservations about the casting of the two major characters, but the overall impression is best summed up in the quote below:
"Excellent production, and while the casting of the two main characters may not be ideal, their voices are more than a match for these challenging parts. Together with the spectacular staging and expert choreography, this has to be the best production of Turandot currently available on Blu-Ray."
(*The OperaDou Jury is made up of at least 12 professional classical musicians, dancers and seasoned opera & ballet afficionados who meet at the L'OperaDou "Home Opera Theatre" in the south of France to review classical HD productions and share their opinions with a global audience. More details can be found by Googling "OperaDou". The complete review and all Video Crits can be consulted on the "Turandot" page at "OperaDou Archives").
This review says it all!
The second Turandot review is in fact commentary on an Opera Australia Turandot performance recorded in 1991 at the Sydney Opera House, with a completely different cast. Its conductor,the marvellous Carlo Felice Cillario, has not only quit these Antipodean shores but also alas, the world.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This performance of Turandot is one where everything works. In fact, one could say it's a performance where "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
The two female leads, Susan Foster as Turandot, and Hyeseoung Kwon as Liu, are more than equal to the demands of their respective roles. Ms. Foster easily handles the high tessitura of "Principessa Divina," (rightly regarded as one of operas most difficult dramatic soprano parts), she has a beautiful voice, and her vocal technique is marvelous as well. There is no stridency, no scooping or sliding up to the high notes, and her intonation (pitch) is spot on. Listen to her performance of "In questa reggia" to hear how well this difficult aria can be sung.
Hyeseoung Kwon as the slave girl, Liu, not only possesses a beautiful, lyric soprano voice, she physically graces her role with a caliber of acting that is convincing and touching. Her performance of her third act aria, "Tu che di gel sei cinta," where she explains to Turandot why she is willing to die for the man she loves, is gorgeously sung as well as heart breakingly moving.
The lead male singers in this opera also have voices of great beauty and their acting is quite credible as well. Although the tenor lead, Rosario La Spina, needs some time in the first act to warm up, he has a voice of lyric beauty and his high notes are very comfortably delivered. His "Nessun dorma" is a joy to hear.
Jud Arthur, the Timur, has a very pleasing, rich bass voice and his acting is so convincing that one could almost believe he really is blind. A particularly good example of his talents is his third act aria where he realizes that his companion, Liu, is dead. It is both well sung and quite touchingly acted. The Ping, Pang, and Pong characters are delightful. They smoothly handle a level of choreography-- while singing!--that is amazing.
It should also be noted that this opera features a significant role for adult and children's choruses. For example, the first act introduction by the children's chorus of one of the opera's major musical themes--"La sui monti dell'est"--is both beautifully sung and charmingly choreographed.
CONDUCTING and STAGING
Turandot is very much a "singer's opera" and Maestro Andrea Licata seems to be mindful of this throughout-- subtly slowing or increasing tempos in given instances to accommodate the needs of the singers. However, his overall dynamics and tempi seem to be just right and one never senses that his singer adjustments are at the expense of the flow of the music nor of the story line. He also maintains a forte/piano balance between the orchestra and singers that is reasonably optimal for both.
Impressive also in this performance is the way the changing moods of the opera's story are underscored by imaginative and clever staging, costuming, choreography, and lighting. This is done so skillfully that one hardly notices the minimal use of scenery. A good example is the ballet sequence that accompanies Ping, Pang, and Pong's third act trio.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
As one would expect, the picture and sound quality of this disc is state of the art. Bravo Opera Australia!
FOOTNOTE: In this production of Turandot, the final "t" in "Turandot" is consistently sounded.
Turandot is a difficult opera to be satisfied with on video. The lead roles are incredibly difficult, with most Turandots sounding either wobbly and harsh (Eva Marton) or steady and boring (Ghena Dimitrova). For me, the happy mediums have been Giovanna Casolla and Francesca Patane, with Patane looking and acting every inch the headstrong and alluring princess. Here, Susan Foster makes another great impression in the title role. In the middle and lower range, she has an alarming wobble to her voice (this becomes less bothersome as the production goes on), but she is rock solid, fearless, and tireless on the cruel higher range that makes this role and ruins many a famous soprano (Maria Guleghina, I'm looking at you). Most importantly, Foster is entirely inside her role at every moment and concentrates on communicating an actual character arc so that the transformation becomes so much more believable than ever before because you've watched it happening in her the entire time. It seemed as though neither she nor the audience knew how she would respond in the final scene, which made it all the more exciting.
Rosario La Spina is a tenor that I'm familiar with from Richard Hickox's excellent recording of Rusalka, so I was already aware of both the truly bizarre placement of his voice and his liquid musicality. As Calaf, though, he has the annoying tendency to cut off notes early, especially in the first act, and his unusual voice does not distract from his "acting", which consists of staring wide-eyed at the conductor for 90% of the performance. That said, his "Nessun dorma" is gorgeous, and he pulls out several impressive top notes during the night. Hyeseoung Kwon as Liu can be uncertain of pitch, but is unbearably moving. No matter how many Liu's you may have seen, her death scene will bring you to tears. Jud Arthur is not in good voice as Timur, but he's not horrible, and his reactions to Liu's death are stunning. The Ping, Pang, and Pong trio sound a little shallow and look like they could stand to have more fun with their scene. The chorus and orchestra sound amazing with Maestro Licata perfectly pacing the performance, and of course the production is suitably spectacular while also maintaining an aire of mystery and the fairy tale world, a nice alternative to the over-the-top garishness of the Met-Zefirelli production.
All in all, if you love Turandot, you're not going to find the be-all end-all video, but with such a production and such a leading lady, you will find one here that will satisfy you.