Manitoba Opera: Turandot

Manitoba Opera closed its 2014/15 season with its first staging of the
Asian-inspired drama since 1996, with three performances held April 18, 21, and
24. The 165-minute production (including two intermissions) stage directed by
Winnipeg-born Tom Diamond also featured Tyrone Paterson ably leading the
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Puccini’s lushly orchestrated score
infused with exotic, Eastern flavoured themes.

Moscow-born soprano Mlada Khudoley who also appeared in the title role
during MO’s 2011 production of Salome re-affirmed her status as an
operatic force of nature. Her dramatic intensity seemed only to grow with each
passing scene, from her first veiled, “teaser” entry where she silently
perches atop sky-high scaffolding, to final duet “Del primo pianto,” in
which she confesses her love to Cal‡f. Her mesmerizing emotional trajectory
where she melts before our eyes from a stony cold princess to deeply wounded
woman hiding behind pride and power proved masterful. Khudoley’s powerhouse
vocals, and especially during Act II’s pivotal scene in which she poses the
three cryptic riddles to Cal‡f enthralled with her every penetrating note.


Winnipeg-based soprano Lara Ciekiewicz also shone in her
role debut as slave girl — and moral presence — Li˘. She crafted
her guileless character with utter simplicity, faithfully tending to American
bass Valerian Ruminski’s deposed Tartar King Timur, while begging Cal‡f to
abandon his obsessive pursuit of Turandot during Act I’s “Signore,
ascolta!” Her crystal clear voice radiated sincerity during Act III’s “Tu
che di gel sei cinta,” performed just before taking her own life in order to
spare Cal‡f’s.

Cuban-born lyric tenor Ra˘l Melo marking his MO debut did not fare as well.
His voice struggled to project at times, albeit did grow increasingly stronger
throughout the show. His iconic Act II aria “Nessun Dorma,” should be a
showstopper. Melo showed some strain in his upper range, with clunky
amplification of the backstage chorus also becoming a distraction. And while
yes, the show did go on, his strong conviction and commitment to this character
nevertheless earned loud cheers from the clearly rapt audience.

Ping (Benjamin Covey), Pang (Keith Klassen) and Pong (Christopher Mayell)
made a magical entrance during their opening trio, “Fermo, che fai?,”
pushed about in wheeled, skirted pedestals. Their dreamy Act II “Ho una casa
nell’Honan,” where they pine for their former homes with peaceful,
bamboo-flanked lakes became another highlight.


The lavish production including vibrantly colourful sets/costumes from Opera
Carolina created stunning eye candy, including effective video/stills
projections that added further dimensionality and contemporary appeal. The
image of skulls bobbing in blood does not easily leave the imagination — but
neither does the luminous, breathtaking moon or starry night sky that served as
visual canvas for the top of Act II.

Characters positioned on towering scaffolds clearly showed the pecking order
of power. The Emperor Altoum wonderfully sung by Manitoban bass Terence Mierau
— and notably real-life farmer — seated among shards of light at the very
height of the hall added gravitas to the entire production.

The Manitoba Opera Chorus prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki was augmented by
Children’s Chorus led by Carolyn Boyes, with the latter ensemble’s pure
voices singing of the rising moon in
“Perche tarda la luna?” stirring.

Opera at its grandest should ideally move the heart or inspire the soul —
as witnessed during MO’s brilliant season-opener of Fidelio last
November. However, Puccini’s opera remains a conundrum; a fantastical tale
that ends happily ever only after its most innocent characters, Li˘
and her countless suitors including the Prince of Persia (George Nytepchuk)
have become brutally slaughtered.

Still, MO is to be commended for breathing new life into this ice princess
after an absence of 19 years. The opening night audience certainly seemed to
agree, especially melted by Khudoley’s gripping performance, and springing to
its feet at the end with cries of bravo.

Holly Harris

image_description=A scene from Turandot [Photo by R. Tinker]
product_title=Manitoba Opera: Turandot
product_by=A review by Holly Harris
product_id=Above: A scene from Turandot

Photos by R. Tinker