THEATRE B A Reviews Turandot by Puccini New Theatre Cardiff REVIEWS


New Theatre

A life or death situation

Despite the apparent happy ending Christopher Alden's fairy tale production of Puccini's Turandot for Welsh National Opera is so powerful that it is overwhelming and almost painful to experience. The violent story of the Ice Princess, who has her prospective suitors beheaded when they fail to answer her riddles correctly, is very vividly brought to life. The set is claustrophobic and the stage lopsided; the colours bright and garish; the lighting sometimes cold and harsh; all contributing to a feeling of discomfort in the audience. Even the slight comic relief of the three Imperial Ministers has a sinister undertone.

This production is big and bold. The semicircular purple wall running along the sides and back of the stage made me feel that I was in the centre of a bull ring; there is no obvious way off the stage. The walls do have a variety of doors which afford the characters entrance and exit. There is a lovely reveal in Act Two when the citizens of Peking look down on the trial of the riddles and everything seems to be purple and green. Congratulations to the designers Paul Steinberg and lighting designer Heather Carson.

Prince Calaf (Rafael Rojas) arrives at the walls of a legendary Peking in time to see the latest execution. He is accompanied by the spirits of his father (Ilya Bannik) and the slave girl, Liù (Olga Mykytenko), who support and guide him through his forthcoming trial. On first seeing Princess Turandot (Francesca Patané) he loves her and is determined to win her for his wife. Ping (Matthew Hargreaves), Pang (Philip Lloyd Holtam) and Pong (Anthony Mee) prepare for either the wedding or the funeral. Turandot asks her three riddles and Calaf answers them correctly, much to her despair. Turandot sees death whilst Calaf sees llfe, but he is willing to die if she can guess his name before dawn. The citizens are kept awake and are threatened with death so that Calaf's name can be discovered. Liù says that she alone knows his name but will never reveal it, as she loves him. She kills herself to avoid further torture as dawn breaks. At first Turandot resists Calaf and when he tells her his name she seems to be about to have him put to death, but on announcing that she knows his name she says that it is Love. Throughout, the chorus swings from cheering the beheading to applauding Calaf's success with the riddles, to fearing for their lives during the night and to bloodlust for the torture of Liù to save their own skins; but at the end they sing to the glory of love.

Turandot's entrance and voice are chilling and rich, her posture and costume conveying her power and position and hatred of men. Francesca Patané takes over the stage and leaves you in no doubt of her feelings. Calaf is gentle in his dark grey and very loving in his tone, showing his care of Timur and Liù, but determined in his pursuit of Turandot. Ping, Pang and Pang are resplendent in their respectively bright green, yellow and blue outfits. Olga Mykytenko's singing is divine. The music at the opening of Act Three reminded me of a Hitcockian film soundtrack, with the orchestra, under the guidance of Julian Smith, gently moving into those familiar notes of Nessun dorma. The production is of epic proportions, the cast sometimes making use of exaggeratedly slow movements, all adding to the unreal nature of the tale. © JD

“Turandot” is at the New Theatre Cardiff on the 20th, 24th September and 1st of October, 2004 with pre performance talks at 6.15 pm for ticket holders.

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