Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

Notes on SF Opera's Turandot by Puccini

Dress Rehearsal of Turandot, San Francisco Opera.
We're sitting up in the boxes, always a novelty that makes me feel giddy.

- Basic plot. A beautiful Chinese princess issues a decree that any man wishing to marry her must answer three riddles. Upon glancing her face, the deposed Prince of Tatary resolves to win her, despite the protestations of his father and servant, Liu. Somehow, the Prince actually manages to answer the three (incredibly lame) riddles correctly, but in an act of compassion allows Turandot an out: if she can figure out his name before the rising of the sun, he won't force her to marry him. She arrests and tortures Liu, but the servant's love of the Prince touches her, and ultimately Turandot succumbs to her love of her new husband.

- The sets are very bright and colorful. Bold colors. Very geometric. It almost makes me think of the backgrounds in that old Samurai Jack cartoon. One of the neat things about attending a dress rehearsal is you can see the sets being built up and struck down during the intermissions. I thought it was fascinating to see these skeletons of plywood and painted canvas coming together to form rooms, houses, gardens.

- Not to be cruel, but the last time I saw Turandot the singer playing the title character was HUGE; so large that a new costume had to hastily constructed and she looked like a beach ball draped in a shiny, metallic bathrobe. I know that in opera you have to ignore certain aspects of casting - half the time, these men and women are usually meant to be teenage characters but the actors are obviously closer to middle-aged - but I feel like if a princess is supposed to be so beautiful that men are willing to risk their lives to win her, the actress has to at least be passingly handsome. Turandot was looking pretty good in this show.

I can buy that this is a face for which men would risk their lives.

- Overall, the costumes for this show were pretty cool. Turandot's headpiece is fantastic and she looks positively imperial on the stage, surrounded by dozens of admiring courtiers. The clown ministers of Ping, Pang and Pong were dressed in red, green and purple, and the clash of patterns on their robes highlighted the instability of the court under Turandot's reign. (Well, technically the Emperor, dressed in imperial yellow, is ruling China, but he's humoring his daughter with her silly riddles so we know where the power lies.)

- Gorgeous music. I mean, how do f--- up Puccini, right? I love the arias in this opera anyway, but the singers really did a great job. I was totally into the performance, even though this was a dress rehearsal, so they weren't always singing at full voice and there were pauses while directors/conductors talked to the actors. Also, I love that the opera doesn't drag. Maybe it's just because the last opera I saw was Siegfried, which has SERIOUS pacing issues, but Turandot practically skips quickly along.

- I gotta admit, this is a problematic opera. Turandot's like I WONT' MARRY I WON'T MARRY for two and a half acts, and then suddenly she changes her mind because (near as I can tell) it's time for the story to end and we have to have a big fancy wedding. I wish they could have ended the story more ambiguously, perhaps at the (spoilers!) death of Liu. Would the Prince still marry Turandot, knowing that she's a crazy bloodthirsty bitch who killed the most loyal servant he's ever had? Does Turandot feel regret?
Instead, Liu dies, and it has no emotional effect on the Prince whatsoever. What a dick. He and Turandot deserve each other.

Tags: china, opera, puccini, san francisco, san francisco opera

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