Turandot

 

Puccini Turandot opera to libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Directed  by Franco Zeffirelli 2010 at the Verona Arena Festival.  Stars Maria Guleghina (Turandot), Carlo Bosi (Old Emperor), Luiz-Octavio Faria (Timur), Salvatore Licitra (Calaf), Tamar Iveri (Liù), Leonardo López Linares (Ping), Gianluca Bocchino (Pong), Saverio Fiore (Pang), Giuliano Pelizon (Mandarino), and Angel Harkatz Kaufman (Prince of Persia). Giuliano Carella conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona (Chorus Master Giovanni Andreoli) and the Coro di voci bianche A. LI.VE [Children's Chorus of the Lyric Academy of Verona](Chorus direction by Paolo Facincani). Set design by Franco Zeffirelli; costume design by Emi Wada; choreography by Maria Grazia Garofoli; lighting design by Paolo Mazzon; directed for TV by Andy Sommer. Released  2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D

This production has Maria Guleghina as Turandot (she stars  in many Turandot productions)  heading up a fine cast with an excellent orchestra and conductor. They have license to use the same staging and designs by Franco Zeffirelli that have become at the N. Y. Met the literal and figurative "gold standard" for the ultimate opulent opera extravaganza. The show was no doubt quite exciting to the thousands in the arena watching this on a warm August evening.  But what do we get from this in HDVD? Alas, an embarrassing mess.

There are three big problems with putting this on for HDVD in the Verona arena:

1.   The stage. The normal opera stage is a box with depth in pleasing proportion to its width. This normal box is surrounded by hidden spaces to the sides and fly spaces above which allow quick changes of scenery. The orchestra is substantially hidden in a pit in front of and under the stage.  But in the Verona arena, there is one wide, shallow, almost "U" shaped stage that surrounds the exposed (large) orchestra. The palace of the emperor has to be elevated over the masses of common folk. This is achieved by building crude-looking scaffolds from exposed timbers and planks that are ugly and probably unpleasant for the cast to negotiate. This wholesale distortion of the stage from the norm cripples all of the famous Zeffirelli directing and choreography for the stars and supporting masses of commoners, executioners, court officials, and attendants. If you know the Met version of this, you will sense the pain the Verona restaging director (name unknown) and cast must have felt as they tried to make this show look like Zeffirelli.

2. Designs that look good to 10,000 people in an arena often look ridiculous close up. The boy monks are wearing shower caps. The emperor's long beard is hung on his face by a sturdy twine passing over his ear and his mike is sticking out next to that.  The executioner's sword appears to be made of cardboard. The headdresses worn by Ping, Pong, and Pang seem to be made with springs designed to make these characters look as silly as possible.  And surely there's a costume shop somewhere in Italy where you can rent for the Prince of Persia a decent severed head.

3. Miked sound. The post-production folks were unable to prevent numerous instances of bad balance of the singing and the orchestra. This is always a daunting task even in a normal opera house. The miked singers and blaring loudspeakers in the arena make it far harder to get the balance right.

So who would buy this when he can pick from several other excellent Blu-rays of Turandot including  the real (Zeffirelli) thing on Decca? Nobody, we submit,  unless he has a special reason such as the desire to own the excellent Tamar Iveri rendition of Liù. Or we could imagine that the girl friend of Angel Harkatz Kaufman (the silent role of the Prince of Persia still with this head) would want to buy this title and show if off to her buddies. And we bought it because we buy everything. So with so few customers, our grading system leads us to give this a D grade.

Alas, the YouTube clips of this are all in pitifully bad SD.