PUCCINI: Turandot

David Pountneyís production offers a succession of amazing stage pictures, but despite the best efforts of a partisan booklet essay writer and Mr. Pountney himself, interviewed in an extra feature, none of his intentions convincingly illuminate Pucciniís opera. Pountney sees Turandot as a depiction of the anti-humanistic world of the ë20s and ë30s, but instead of throwing light on the action, his random flashes of inspiration confuse the eye and mind. Trying to view this Turandot as a valid version of the opera becomes an increasingly frustrating exercise. Just sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures.
And what pictures. Turandot appears inside a huge bronze-like head, which cracks open to reveal her standing as if 50 feet tall, inside a golden gown cascading down to the floor. Later, when Calaf solves the third riddle, she collapses and leaves the gown behind, spending the rest of the opera in a nightgown. The citizens of the city go through mechanical motions in row after row of barred cells, as of a prison. In act three, the bronze head has split into two and fallen to the floor, and the characters clamber over its sloping sides.
Why donít these brilliant tableaus add up to a successful production? Arguably, Pountney has misinterpreted the opera. He even denies, in the interview, that Turandot is a fairy tale, although the first booklet essay lays out its origins as one concisely. He also shrugs off a question about the kitsch element of the opera with a sly grin, which suggests he believesóhe comes close to saying soóthat kitsch sums up Turandot. Without true faith in the worth of the opera, no wonder Pountneyís flash canít produce any light.
Pountney also needs to consider the value of movementódespite the visual imagination, too often the singers have little to do. Direction means much more than coming up with brilliant rationales for outrageous stage designs. Sometimes the singers need to be told how to behave and why.
A problematic cast struggles to bring this concept to life. In the extra-feature interview, Gabriele Schnaut looks attractive and speaks with intelligence. Unfortunately, as made-up and costumed here, she makes for a scary, unappealing Princess. Her top notes, always controversial, fly out like pitchless shrieksóneither flat nor sharp, just indeterminate notes in siren mode.
Calaf apparently holds no interest for PountneyóJohan Botha, wandering the set with no particular aim, sings the entire role in a dull gray suit (of considerable size). Botha moves well most of the time, although after climbing on top of the broken bronze head he can be seen gingerly finding his way down. He has ample voice and range for this challenging roleóbut no beauty. The ìNessun dormaî gets no reception at all, perhaps partly due to the direction, or Gergievís momentum, but surely a dynamic rendition would have earned the tenor an ovation.
Cristina Gallardo-Domas takes the signing honors, but Lius so often do. Her petite frame emphasizes the characterís pathos, though it makes one wonder about the wisdom of her attraction to her hefty Calaf. Liuís devotion to Paata Burchuladzeís Timur also needs some explanation, as his shaggy bass makes for a less than appealing figure.
Some may be drawn to this DVD for its status as the only complete version of Turandot with the recent Berio completion, replacing the Alfano. It may still be early to make firm declarations about the fate of this revised ending; in Pountneyís mise en scene, the eeriness and sparseness of Berioís work works well enough. For your reviewer, the shift away from Pucciniís exquisitely melodic opulence to the arid world of late 20th-Century composition will probably always remain an unpleasant metamorphosis.
Gergievís conducts brilliantly, shifting gears from passion and bombast to lyricism and beauty. With a better cast, one could darken the screen and listen to the DVD with appreciation for Gergievís and the Vienna Philís contribution.
Sound off or picture off? Not an attractive dilemma. Lovers of this opera should search out another DVD version.
Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Turandot
Act III completion by Luciano Berio
product_by=Gabriele Schnaut, Johan Botha, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Paata Burchuladze, Wiener Philharmoniker, Staatsopernchor, Tolzer Knabenchor, Valery Gergiev (cond.)
product_id=Opus Arte DVUS-OPTURSFR