Wed, Apr 10, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Review: A Turandot that is a keeper

The National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts wowed audiences with its production of ‘Turandot,’ which it plans to put into repertoire, which is great news for opera fans. However, Bare Feet Dance Theatre’s ‘An Eternity Before and After’ fails to connect

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Italian tenor Dario Di Vietri, left, as Calaf, and Taiwanese soprano Hanying Tso- Petanaj as Turandot, shone in director’s Li Huan-hsiung production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts on Friday night last week.

Photo courtesy of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts

The National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying)-Deutsche Oper am Rhein production of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot premiered in Germany in December 2015, but its Taiwan premiere was delayed until last week due to Weiwuying not opening until October last year.

So great was the anticipation for the Taiwanese-helmed production that when tickets for the three performances went on sale late last year they sold out fast — even though Weiwuying’s Opera House has 2,236 seats. The theater added a fourth show, which also sold out.

Director Li Huan-hsiung (黎煥雄) and his creative team made several brave choices for this production that paid off, while the predominately Taiwanese cast on Friday night last week, led by Hanying Tso-Petanaj (左涵瀛) in the title role, were terrific.

Li’s Turandot is a stunner, from stage designer Liang Jo-shan’s (梁若珊) minimalist set, to Lai Hsuan-wu’s (賴宣吾) costumes — which were all made by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein’s costume shop — to the projections of video designer Wang Jun-jieh (王俊傑).

I don’t think I have ever heard the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra (長榮交響樂團), conducted by Weiwuying artistic director Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬), and beefed up with musicians from the Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra (高雄市管樂團), sound so good.

Some of Li’s choices were bound to be controversial, beginning with his decision to stage the opera as a dream, or actually more nightmare, of a modern Chinese woman — white-clad dancer Yu Cheng-jung (余承蓉) — who drifts in and out of the action and sometimes becomes a player.

The opening scene behind a scrim evokes Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella protests: the chorus huddles under black umbrellas while black-clad helmeted riot police stand behind their shields along the ramparts of a silhouette of a Chinese walled city, with the message “Cease or we open fire” emblazoned over the archway.

Emperor Altoum was sung by Chang Yuh-yin (張玉胤), Timur by South Korean basso Taihwan Park, Calaf by Italian tenor Dario Di Vietri, Liu by Taiwanese soprano Lin Ling-hui (林玲慧), with Singaporean baritone Martin Ng (吳翰衛) as Ping, Taiwanese Amis tenor Claude Lin (林健吉) as Pang, Taiwanese-American tenor Joseph Hu (胡中良) as Pong and Taiwanese baritone Rios Li (李增銘) as the Mandarin.

Tso-Petanaj and Lin Ling-hui were just as stunning as they had been in the National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO, 國立臺灣交響樂團) production of Puccini’s Il Trittico in July 2017.

While I was not initially impressed by Di Vietri, by the time Calaf’s famous aria Nessun Dorma rolled around in Act Three he had hit his stride.

I was also impressed by Ng, whose portrayal of Scarpia in the NSO’s concert version of Tosca in February at the National Concert Hall in Taipei was stiff. As Ping, the lord chancellor, he was much more animated, not to mention funny.

Lai’s costume were an interesting design mix, ranging from a mix of ethnicities in Yuan Dynasty China — Han, Muslims, Mongolians and Tibetans — to magnificent robes for Turandot. He dressed the emperor in a suit and bowler hat like Puccini used to wear, while Ping, Pang and Pong shifted between Yuan-like court robes and 19th century Western suits, much as the stage imagery shifted between ancient China and modern-day Asia.

However, the best thing about Weiwuying’s production of Turandot is that it will not disappear like a dream once the night is over, the way most of the major international shows coproduced by the National Theater have done.

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