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Puccini: Turandot  [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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Zubin Mehta leads the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana in this production of Puccini's final opera staged at Valencia's Palau de les Arts in May, 2008. This visually spectacular production from Chinese film director Chen Kaige features performances from Maria Guleghina, Marco Berti, Alexia Voulgaridou, and Alexander Tsimbaliuk
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There's a human heart in the story of a cruel princess, Turandot, who demands that anyone seeking her hand in marriage must first give the answer to three riddles that she sets - and where there's a human heart, few are as expressive as Giacomo Puccini. It's within the answers to these riddles moreover that those qualities in the music and in the story can be found. It's hope that lies within Calef, but it is due to die at dawn, his answers to the riddles having failed to melt the burning ice of Turandot, and it's only through the blood of Liu that the situation is resolved and the true nature of love is revealed. If this doesn't quite add up to full character development, the beauty of Puccini's musical arrangements makes up the difference. The Oriental touches are not merely pastiche either - Puccini seems to understand the nature of this foreign and discordant music and the sentiments that lie within it, and he meaningfully and skilfully weaves it into his score to great effect.
Franco Zeffirelli's lavish production for The Met could also be accused of extravagance, kitsch and overstatement, but in reality it's perfectly in keeping with the tone and the nature of Puccini's drama. Zeffirelli's huge sets capture the grandness of the occasion, the decadence of the royal court and the magical qualities of the fairy-tale nature of the subject, but it also pays attention to the details in the costume design, as well as in the position of the characters within the sets and in relation to one another. Those qualities are also borne out in the performance of the Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons, who grasp the full force and dymanic of this extraordinary opera, and in the singing performances from a fine cast. Guleghina and Giordani play well together and rise to the exceptional demands of their roles, but it's Marina Poplavskaya who positively shines as Liu. Poplavskaya can sometimes be a little inconsistent and out of her depth in certain roles, but she has a great emotional quality in her voice and it comes through here brilliantly. In every respect this production is just magnificent - there's no other word for it.
The Blu-ray release from Decca has an unfortunate fault with the English subtitles - at least on the initial batch of copies. English subtitles are a full 37 seconds out of sync with the voices, though they seem fine on the other languages (I got by on French). The subs work fine if you access Act 3 directly from the chapter menu (if you want to get to Nessun Dorma, for example), but they cannot be made to synchronise for any of the other acts through this method. It's a pity, because in all other respects, this is a superb High Definition presentation of the Met's 2009 Live in HD recording that brings out the full colourful glory of Zeffirelli's production, and packs a punch on the HD sound mixes. The recording keeps the same format as the HD Live broadcasts, introduced here by Patricia Racette, who also conducts interviews with Maria Guleghina, Marcello Giordani, and Charles Anthony during the interval between Act 2 and 3.
Artistically, the production is moving and involving, especially from act 2 onwards, culminating in a gripping final act.
Maria Guleghina surpasses Eva Marton, whilst Marchello Giordani is a match for Domingo in the Zeffirelli production under Levine Turandot - Puccini - NTSC edition  [DVD]. He justly gets an enthusiastic applause after "Nessun dorma".
Marina Poplavskaya is a moving Liu and Hopkins, Stevenson and Valdes are a wonderful trio as Ping, Pang and Pong.
The subtitles problem stressed by all other reviewers is irritating in acts 1 and 2. They improve a lot in the 3rd act, but the problem still remains. Could Amazon do something about us, who in all trust to its impeccable quality of service rushed to pre-order the BD?
Five stars for the artistic virtues, one star (thanks to act 3) for the subtitling.
Other problems include the lack of Italian subtitles and an inacuracy of the translation into English. Example, Principessa di gelo (Princess of ice) is rendered as "Princess of bloodshed". This license of translation is repeated throughout and is unacceptable. Why the translator should see fit to alter the meanings of words so drasticaly is utterly baffling.
Not all bad though! Had I seen this production live I would have been very pleased. However, recorded media inevitably will be compared to the best that is available, and here this blu-ray edition comes unstuck. The legendary Zeffirelli production is stunning but many familiar with the Levine/Marton/Domingo DVD wanting to purchase this blu-ray for the HD visuals may be disappointed by the mediocrity of the audio and performances.
The orchestra to my ear sounded muddled and this may well be due to the somewhat poor sound engineering and unbalanced acoustic. As for the singing, I was at times delighted and at others underwhelmed. Poplavskaya's Signore Ascolta was delightful but Ramey's beautiful bass has acquired a slightly distracting vibrato wobble. Guleghina has the right steely voice for the Principesa di morte but at times lacked the (Wagnerian?) clout this role demands. She sounded better in Mehta's fine (if visually silly) Valencia production. Giordani's Calaf at times threatened to become sublime genius but was mostly unconvincing. Nobody shone but nobody was bad.
I would prefer that recordings be made once the performers have settled into their roles and the particular staging rather than rushed out to disc on opening nights (Teatro alla Scala's Aida suffers similar issues.) And I would prefer that Decca take more care in their publishing.
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Most recent customer reviews
Singing - also near flawless and Turadot was again the icy cold and power tower,
As she should be.Read more
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