Conducted by Christian Badea
Directed by Graeme Murphy
Joan Sutherland Theatre
The Opera House, Bennelong Point
Season (see website for performance dates) 24 June – 28 August 2015
It appears that the opera gives us an outlet to explore emotions at a heightened level, on the journey of the protagonists, skirting the borders of death and falling into the deepest love, all in the span of two short hours. During the two intermissions giving us an interlude between the three acts, we remark the calibre of the performances and the severity of the circumstances that our protagonist is fraught with. And when the opera concludes, the large majority of us go home to our relatively mundane lives, left to ponder the turmoil endured by our endearing protagonist. These 20th century Italian artists were onto something when they composed music and applied contexts to characters that gave audiences a taste of the thrilling extremes of emotion. The Opera Australia production of Turandot directed by Graeme Murphy does exactly this, ensconcing the audience in a riveting tale like none that we could experience in this day and age.
Puccini’s Turandot hurdles its audience into legendary times in Peking, China, where it is sacred law that if a suitor of royal blood can answer three riddles correctly, he can have Princess Turandot’s hand in marriage - but if they answer incorrectly they forfeit their life. Marred by her ancestor’s experience who had protected herself from male influence until an invading foreign prince murdered her, Turandot is adamant she does not want to marry. When a prince of a dethroned kingdom, Calaf, sees Turandot for the first time, he falls instantly in love with her and in spite of the danger to his life and despite the fact that the Persian prince is about to be executed before his eyes, Calaf declares himself a suitor. Turmoil, anguish, and eventual love ensues in this epic opera.
We are presented with a female protagonist, Turandot, performed by Lise Lindstrom, who embodies the complex doubling and dichotomy in the perception of women, as opposed to the reality of their core. This is illustrated in the discrepancy between language and actions and is sublimely encapsulated in Lindstrom’s performance. Turandot is repeatedly referred to as pure, one who cannot be touched, and yet catalyses the suicide of Liu – one who has been exiled and disgraced, yet remains perpetually loyal, dying for a noble cause. Turandot is dressed in white, seemingly symbolising purity in our western culture, and whilst this symbolism can continue in Chinese culture, it is also the colour worn during mourning and can be associated with death. She is cast as being in control and wielding ultimate power over men, as multitudes sacrifice their lives in an attempt to win her hand in marriage – yet this is quickly overturned when Calaf answers the riddles correctly and gains the power to marry Turandot, even against her will. Ultimately, Turandot’s father and suitors reduce her to a commodity, placing upon her the illusion of power to increase her allure. Emphatically, Turandot’s power as one of the most influential females in this society could be likened to a toothless tiger.
Yonghoon Lee is astounding as Calaf, exuding intense passion and focus in pursuing his all-encompassing love for Turandot, as one of the strongest forces on earth. This emotion translates into his phenomenal voice that captivated the audience over and over again. His performance was complemented by Lindstrom’s icy Turandot highlighted in the renowned aria Nessun Dorma, and further contrasted with the heartbreaking grief experienced by Liu, portrayed exceptionally by Hyeseoung Kwon. Her utter devotion to Timur, Calaf’s exiled father, and her relentless love for Calaf was palpable. The audience adored these leading protagonists, which was reflected in a standing ovation for their performance.
Integration of all the performance elements enhanced the overall spectacle, producing wonders for the eye as material fans and sheets billowed across the stage, likened to the fantastical aesthetics gleaned from Chinese culture. The effectiveness of choreography was highly dependent on these props however, leaving choreography that was solely reliant on the human body to appear basic and clumsy. Costumes were a dazzling sight and helped to symbolise the status and nature of a character.
Puccini’s Turandot takes audiences to emotional extremes on this operatic journey, and Murphy’s production is immensely moving as led by three riveting lead performers. Risking a torturous death for an all-powerful love, Turandot fills you with commanding music to feel these profound emotions for yourself.