Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Graeme Murphy's rhythmically alive Turandot returns to Melbourne with impressive musical quality

Published online at Herald Sun 20th November and in print 21st November 2019

When Opera Australia’s near 30-year -old production of Turandot opened on Tuesday night, many might have thought director Graeme Murphy’s dark and dynamic work was seeing its last days. Word has it, however, that there aren’t any plans yet to replace it for the company’s new utilisation of high-definition LED screens.

Lise Lindstom as Turandot, Walter Fraccaro as Calaf 
In its latest revival under director Kim Walker, the opera’s exotic theatrical fantasy is boldly underlined. From the start, when a crowd of oppressed citizens create waves of movement across the stage, rhythmical continuity becomes key to its success. Murphy’s choreographic skills are put to effective use even though patches can feel dated.

Ribbons of blood, waving banners, threatening swords and towering figures of rule set the scene in ancient Peking. The plot revolves around solving three riddles that would give a prince the right to marry an ice-hearted princess. Almost entirely, Puccini’s music creates the drama in what is a rather emotionally meagre story. For it, Christian Badea’s bold, tension-building approach to the score was a winner, as was Orchestra Victoria’s excellence.

Walter Fraccaro as Calàf, Christopher Hillier as Ping,
John Longmuir as Pong and Virgilio Marino as Pang
The singing was impressive too. As Turandot, when soprano Lise Lindstrom proclaimed “No man will ever own me!”, she brought out the full force of long- harboured anguish and seemingly sang for all women. In a reminder of her searing 2016 OA Ring’s Brünnhilde, Lindstrom’s vocal power burned long and intensely with no shortage of nuance and fluidity to go with it in this demanding role. An impassioned heart and voice accompanied tenor Walter Fraccaro’s renegade Calaf. Not every phrase was sealed with the chiaroscuro beauty he portrayed but Act 3’s renowned opening Nessun dorma! certainly sealed his audience’s approval.

In a tragic consequence of circumstances, soprano Karah Son was a standout as a poignantly sung Liù, the slave girl who sacrifices her life for Calaf. The choruses sang with thrilling purpose and Christopher Hillier, Virgilio Marino and John Longmuir nailed their parts splendidly in voice and manoeuvres as a highly experienced trio of imperial ministers. Given that Turandot doesn’t sing a note until the middle of Act 2, they just about steal the show.

Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until December 6


Production Photos: Jeff Busby

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