Lise Lindstrom Triumphs in Turandot

Last Minute Debut at the Metropolitan Opera

By: - Nov 03, 2009

Turandot Turandot Turandot Turandot Turandot

By Giacomo Puccini
Conductor Andris Nelsons
Set Deigned by Franco Zeffirelli
Costumes, Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri; Lighting, Gil Wechsler; Choreography, Chiang Ching, Stage director, David Kneuss
Turandot, Lise Linstrom; Calaf, Marcello Giordani; Timur, Samuel Ramey; Liu, Marina Poplavskaya; Emperor Altoum, Charles Anthony; Ping, Joshua Hopkins; Pang, Tony Stevenson; Pong Eduardo Valdes.
The Metropolitan Opera
October 28, 2009
Live in HD Broadcast, November 7, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera was packed to the rafters for the season premiere of the sumptuous Franco Zeffirelli production of Giacomo Puccini's  epic Asian fantasy Turandot. This was opera at its very best. A national audience will enjoy this stunning favorite during the Live in HD Broadcast on November 7. In the Berkshires the Met in HD is sold out at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

In the past year there has been public outcry that Met general manager, Peter Gelb, has been gradually updating productions. The season opening Tosca evoked cat calls from the audience and a rash of negative reviews.

But the audience got exactly what they craved in that greatest of all spectacles, Zeffirelli's enduring and astonishing staging of that grandest of all operas, Turandot. During the second act when the curtain opened on the Imperial Palace there was thunderous applause. The set combined with the costumes of  Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri were simply enchanting. Be still dear heart.

The evening started on what might have been an ominous note. It was announced that because of a severe cold Maria Guleghina would not be able to perform in the title role. Instead Turandot would be sung by Lise Lindstrom making her Met debut. Actually, Lindstrom, who is known for her Turandot, was scheduled to appear in repertory later in the season.

It was a Met debut for the thirty year old conductor, Andris Nelsons. The emerging star is the music director of England's City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was also the first performance of Calaf, the suitor of Turandot, by the tenor Marcello Giordani.

On November 28, 1924, Puccini died suddenly of a heart attack. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the throat. Through his friend Arturo Toscanini the third act  of Turandot was completed, following the composer's notes, by Franco Alfano. It was given its premiere at La Scala with Toscanini conducting. But he did not include Alfano's ending instead turning to the audience and stating that "Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died." The Alfano addition was later performed but has been variously edited as was the case with this Met performance.

In many ways Turandot is the most exotic and sumptuous of the works by Puccini. He experimented with new musical forms to evoke the exotic ambiance of the Asian themed libretto. It tells the tale of a princess whose mother was abused and murdered leading Turandot to despise men.

To ward off suitors they must solve her three riddles. Failing to come up with the correct answers results in the death penalty the following dawn. In the first act, as Calaf (Marcello Giordani), observes and falls in love with her, a suitor is about to be beheaded. There are poles sticking up with heads of other contenders. That year there were more than a dozen suitors who lost their heads over Turandot. Everyone warns Calaf against taking on such a grim challenge.

Part of this intervention is provided with some comic relief, and exotic Asian inflected music, by the trio of court retainers Ping (Joshua Hopkins), Pang (Tony Stevenson) and Pong (Eduardo Valdes). They have a motive in not wanting Calaf to participate and succeed. Should he solve the riddles of Turandot they and other retainers will be executed by the vengeful and wicked princess. It seems she has an ax to grind.  

Love, of course, is blind. Particularly in grand opera. Arriving at court Calaf recognizes his long lost father the exiled King Timur (Samuel Ramey). He is accompanied by a slave and devoted servant Liu (Marina Poplavskaya). It seems that one glance from Calaf has caused Liu to fall in love with the ill fated Prince.

To her horror, during the second act, Calaf succeeds in correctly answering Turandot's three riddles. She shudders to contemplate the fate of being the bride of a man. But Calaf is so determined to have her true love that he offers to fall victim to the ax if she can discover his name and identity by dawn. Unfortunately, in act three, this means torturing Liu who in a stunning aria opts for suicide rather than reveal the identity of her true love.

The aria by Marina Poplavaskya  as Liu was an artistic high point of the evening. It was met by a chorus of Bravos. As was Giordani's nuanced and compelling aria, the familiar "Nessun Dorma." Both gave superb renderings of some of Puccini's most masterful creations.

Having witnessed the demise of Liu and the torment of his father it is a bit astonishing that Calaf still desires Turandot. How can he love such a wicked and evil woman? He even reveals his name to her with the consequence of certain execution as proof of his love. This finally melts the heart of the frozen princess. At dawn when her father asks for the identity of the suitor she answers "Love."

The audience adored Turandot, as performed magnificently by Lindstrom. She proved to have the powerful voice required to cut through the enormous chorus and overwhelming ground swells of orchestration. The ovations and "Bravos" started with the second act curtain calls. The applause and cheering was so ecstatic that Lindstrom stepped out of character and started to jump up and down clapping her hands and touching her heart in genuine excitement. It was a stunning and heart warming moment. The applause and love for this new Met star was even greater during the final curtain calls.

The audience adored and reveled in this traditional Zeffirelli production as much as they hissed and booed the restaging of his much missed production of Tosca. The Met audience has clearly stated its position regarding traditional vs. deconstructed opera.

It would be difficult to imagine a more compelling Turandot. In addition to having a powerful and sensual voice Lindstrom is a most attractive actress. Not just Calaf,  but every red blooded man in the house fell utterly, madly in love with her. It was an absolutely sensational evening at the Met. What a treat to be part of this triumphant debut. During that enchanting evening a star was born.