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on 2 August 2011
It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that Turandot is an underrated opera, but its most famous aria, Nessun Dorma, has tended to overshadow the other qualities that the work has to offer. Puccini's final opera (the last scene completed after his death by Franco Alfano) also has more to it than a superficial look at the fairy-tale nature of the story - based on a work by the 18th century Venetian dramatist Carlo Gozzi - might suggest, or indeed the exotic Oriental inflections of the opera's music score. Turandot actually contains some of Puccini's finest musical compositions, the composer bringing his considerable talent to bear on the overall structure and arrangement, while also finding - as he always does - beautiful melodies that express a depth of emotion and character that one might not expect to find in the piece.

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.
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on 20 July 2011
As has been mentioned, the English subtitles for acts 1&2 are delayed by about 35 seconds, rendering this disc worthless to English speakers. For what it's worth (very little) Act 3 is in synch.

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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on 14 July 2011
My copy has the same problem with subtitles. As well as being completely out of sync. the subtitles are few and far between. Someone has decided to show only the bare minimum required to follow the outline of the plot. There are stretches when people are singing but no subtitles are provided. On occasions a line appears which makes no sense at all because the preceding lines have not been translated.

The production however is visually stunning and the singing consistently good. The audio falls a little short of perfection, especially in loud choral passages, which can be a little congested. But, subtitles apart, highly recommended.
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on 21 April 2011
I am a big Puccini fan, and Turandot is an Opera that I always had a weakness for. It brings out grandeur in Puccini's music like not even Tosca much before it. It has some of the most fantastic orchestration,choruses and sheer difficulty and sensitivity as far as singing is concerned. Its exoticism in terms of creating an atmosphere of a distant land is probably the best of Puccini - even more pronounced than in Madama Butterfly.

This is a work that lends itself to interpretation from both the orchestra, soloists and the chorus in as many ways as there are productions, conductors and directors on stage and behind.

There are ever so many recordings of Turandot, both in CD and DVD. The best of the lot all shine in their own way, although nitpicking problems exist in almost all of them. Therefore, I would like to view this production from the perspective of the 3 productions of this work conducted by Mehta in 3 decades that I am familiar with.

Of the lot, the Sutherland, Pavarotti and Caballe was the first one that caught my fancy, and it has remained my favourite throughout.

The second notable production with Mehta is the one staged in Beijing (1998), which is as grand and opulent as a production can be, even if it was in the open air and miked.

This is the third one conducted by Mehta.

The one in Beijing directed by Zhang Yimou stands out as the better one filmed, with soloists who could not only sing but really act much better, although, soloist to soloist, there are far better people who have sung these roles. That one was a traditional reading, well sung with especially Barbara Frittoli being an outstanding Liu. Even Ping, Pang and Pong in that production were outstanding.
Guleghina in the current production however, is a far better Turandot. In both the Beijing as well as this one, the tenors (Larin and Berti respectively)disappoint a bit.

As far as this production goes,
I wish Calaf was sung a little better. Berti just does not have it in him to play this role. Guleghina really stands out, and I do really wish comparisons are not drawn between her and the doyens of the past to the point of nitpicking. This Opera lends itself to not only singing, but acting too, where I can assure you, she scores well over Sutherland in almost all the roles they have done. Sutherland at her best was a great singer, but her acting left much to be desired.
Liu (Alexia Voulgaridou)is adequate for the role, but pales in comparison with Frittoli in almost all respects.
Timur (Tsymbalyuk)comes through as a great singer here, and his voice definitely has the Russian Timbre and style written all over.

Staging and Direction:
Between Zhang Yimou (Beijing) and Chain Kaige (this one), I think Yimou wins hands down in all departments. I think Kaige is over-rated and should stick to Cinema. I think both the stage/theater and this opera were quite alien to him and that comes out clearly in his approach. He has this 'film-like' approach to every scene. Apart from the singers, the rest of the cast seem a little detached from the opera and the direction is rather clique ridden. This is where the real difference between the two lie. If one wants to see how a stage director does a great job, see the Levine/Zeffirelli, which is one of the best ever productions of this Opera.

The orchestra sounds like velvet and jells well with the soloists as well as the chorus and there are not many places wherein the balance is lost. I do not know if Mehta was rehearsing the Wagner Ring with these guys around the same time, as the whole approach has a distinct Wagnarian touch to it, which, at least to my ears, sounded just great. After all, Wagner was in the psyche of just about any composer who composed in the early 20th century one way or the other, and perhaps it rubbed off on Puccini as well. What may be deemed a criticism (even blasphemy music-wise), according to me, is a fresh approach that is not only different, but extremely pleasant.

I have no problems recommending this blu ray.
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on 23 July 2011
This is a wonderful production. A visual treat, with exceptionally rich sets and costumes.

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 [1988] [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.
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on 3 December 2009
There are several markedly problems with this production, and right from the start:

Beginning with static stage movements' chorus is halved left and right with no purpose in their movements, reminiscent of a high school amateur play setting and gestures.

Right from the start it also becomes painfully obvious that Calaf (Marco Berti - Tenor), has no stage presentation and looks like a barrel walking on two legs - a walking barrel: too fat, thick, barely moves across the stage, and for no obvious reason they dressed him like a Roman soldier.
OK, one would say, if only his voice would possess a golden `klang', flexibility, an elaborate expression - but no, it does not have any of those:
The voice is too wobbly at times; it struggles to reach and stay with the higher notes, has no `hero' sound to it, and has no flexibility of phrase. Sorry; this is a third class tenor inserted into in a production which aspires to become a Blu-ray land mark.

The old Timur (Tsymbalyuk) is fine, although he possesses a strange vibrato tremolo not heard too often from an Italian cultivated bass voice (actually, he is Russian which might explain this enigma).

The slave girl Liu (Alexia Voulgaridou) sings fine but the voice is just a too old for the young slave girl role and sounds too dramatic. No comparison here with the Metropolitan's DVD Leona Mitchell in this role, and certainly no comparison with the excellent childish-like (vocally and visually) sparkling young voice of Cecilia Gasdia for the `Arena di Verona Turandot' DVD production.

And: Chain Kaige staging does this bizarre thing amongst other things:
He strips off the mystery of Turandot's figure and reveals her too soon `in broad day light so to speak: her first entry is from amongst the stage public - carrying a man's helmet on her head like a Wagnerian Walkure figure (it's only when she removes the helmet and exposes her long hair, that one see it is the `princes Turandot') - still, at these moments she looks too much like a Wagnerian Brunhilde the walkure, and much less than Turandot - the mystery figure.
Would it be that Kaige as a stage director wants to give us a glimpse of what Kaige would have staged next with at this same theatre and with this same conductor, Mehta? - meaning the Wagner Das Ring der Niebelungen...?

Watching the emperor role in Chain Kaige staging of Turandot is like watching a drunken Bacchus:
The Kaige staging portrays the old emperor as drunk Roman figure from the Nero era: simply drunk and busy drinking...The choice of an actor/singer for the emperor is sorely wrong here: The face and the voice of the actor chosen are much too young (Javier Aguillo). This `old' emperor has no gray hair, instead, he has a full dark brown crest of hair and a full dark beard (a stupid approach)...
The Aguillo voice (as the old emperor) is fresh, a young tenor voice that tries to pass as "old" but the role asks for a true old frail voice coming from an older actor; this approach here on this DVD of putting a youngster to play the "old" person is not a trustworthy choice.
(Watch and hear the Metropolitan Opera production with the veteran, true old, singer/narrator Huges Cuenod and how this roll should be presented).

Turandot (Maria Gulenghina) is sung ALMOST well, but not quite;
Maria Gulenghina has difficulties in approaching the trumpet-like force called for in the high notes.
True, she gets those notes but does so with much strain and difficulty: ones she gets there she immediately abandon the note for fear that something will either collapse or break-down.
Surely - this is no Ghena Dimitrova - the Turandot of the Arena de Verona, and not Eva Marton - the Turandot for James Levine and the Metropolitan opera in Franco Zeffirelli staging.
True, Maria Gulenghina's voice sounds a bit like Ghena Dimitrova's voice at the middle and the lower-range, but it does not have the power reserves Dimitrova possess, nor has she the clarity-silvery trumpet-voice of Eva Marton in this role.
(Maria Gulenghina is favorably remembered here for her Metropolitan performances of Verdi's Lady Macbeth from few years ago, and even then she had problems keeping the higher notes and the clean upper register !).

The conducting is classical for Zubin Mehta, though he has achieved greater heights for the Decca recording of the Seventies with Sutherland, Pavarotti and Monserrat Caballe (would it be that Mehta felt that this DVD recording is not the case for a total commitment?).

The staging and the illumination on this Blu-ray recording is quite rich and colorful, the costumes too, but stage movements of the participants are static and at times naive and disappointing...The whole setting lacks tension, drama and purpose the way Franco Zeffirelli's staging for the Metropolitan Opera has, where excitement, fluidity, drama and drive are the assets.

From the vocal point of view, staging and performance, one would do much better buying the Levine/Zeffirelli/Metropolitan DVD, with Eva Marton, Leona Mitchell, Flacido Dominigo, or one should try to get the rare and hard to come by DVD of the `Arena di Verona' Turandot (an unforgettable performance illuminated by the stars of opera, with the superb Ghena Dimitrova, Martinucci, Cecilia Gasdia, and Ivo vinvo.
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on 16 May 2010
A top notch opera production demands a lot, particularly when most of the storylines are so unbelievable. BUT if the production, acting and singing all come together then opera can be a truly sublime art form. Sadly this does not happen with the disc under review.

The orchesral playing and the recording of it is first class but I was unmoved by Maria Guleghina in the role of Turandot and found it difficult to accept that men would risk their lives for her. Her singing was certainly powerful, but that did not make it appealing to me. Marco Berti the role of Calaf seemed OK until he attempted Nessun Dorma in Act 3 and he lost me after that poor effort. The chorus was great and the minor roles came through ok but the overall effect was one of disappointment for me. This is a pity because otherwise this production has a lot going for it.

But if the main roles are unimpressively sung then nothing much can save any opera, particularly when the tale presented is as fanciful as that in Turandot.

Not recommended (although I would give it 3.5 stars rather than 3 if that was allowed here).
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on 26 October 2012
I will start off with the positives, the sets are brilliant with most impressive crowds in exotic costumes. The costumes of the lead characters are also very good.
The chorus who of course in Turandot do a lot of work are impressive and most enjoyable.
The artistes are however not all to my taste, Hopkins, Stevenson, and Valdes are absolutely fine, act and sing to a high standard.
Marina Poplavskaya is a wonderful Liu, nothing wrong here, and stalwart Charles Anthony pretty good as the Emperor. The other minor roles are sung fine.
Things now go awry, I know that Samuel Ramey has only a small role as the father of Caliph, but his long wavering vibrato is not pleasing to the ear. It would be preferable to remember him in his excellent prime. Giordani does not have presence, he is just there and his voice is underwhelming. His Nessum Dorme could put me to sleep. He is just not convincing. Guleghhina is just the opposite, she attempts and nearly succedes in blasting orchestra and all off stage. She is so powerful that I feel I am being shouted at rather than sung to. A few of her later moments allow the beauty of her voice to come through. It is not enough for me.
To sum up I give four stars for the overall staging and support, but there are far better productions than this, try Eva Marton or even better the Forbidden City.
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on 14 July 2011
This not a review, but a warning.

I received this Blu-ray today and the English and Chinese Subtitles are out of sync with the singing by 37 seconds. The 1st Note is sung at 00:03:15 the corresponding subtitle does not appear until 00:03:52.

The subtitles of the 1st 88 minutes of the opera are out completely of sync. By the time the subtitles are displayed the action has already moved on to something else (which is extremely annoying). However, from the beginning of the last Act to the end of the opera the subtitles are in sync.

I checked the French, German and Spanish Subtitles and found these to be Ok. If the English or Chinese subtitles are important to you; do not buy this Blu-ray until a replacement is available with the correct timings.

I requested a refund, as any replacement from the same batch will have the same defect. Which presents a problem; how will you know that the problem has been fixed unless you buy the disc and play it? This is very poor quality control by the manufacturer. Defects like this just should not happen.
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on 2 March 2013
The production is skilful, the performances by and large excellent - but this matters for nothing if the subtitles are out of synch. For a lot of Act 1 (and I confess this is where I gave up and chucked the disc in the bin) the subtitles were about 40 seconds behind the action. This is bad enough in solos, but in exchanges between characters, it reduces everything to a complete farce because more often than not, the subtitles make it look like the two characters are singing each other's lines. Written down, this might appear a petty gripe, but trust me, when you are actually watching the performance, it drives you nuts.

If you don't need the subtitles, then this is probably a production worth watching. But if you need the subtitles, then avoid this disc like the plague.
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