After many years of honourable service, Maurizio Scaparro’s beautiful production of Turandot had to step onto the sidelines in order to make room for a brand new mise-en-scène that the Festival Puccini entrusted to Angelo Bertini, an eclectic local artist who also designed sets and costumes. As he explains in the programme, Bertini intended to emphasize Puccini’s interest in the cultural trends of his times, giving life to an “art deco” Turandot whose black lacquered frame is adorned with the gold doodles typical of the period. This frame contains golden structures that would not be out of place in the Empire State Building of New York. The production is visually striking and never fails to surprise the audience scene after scene with new ideas, new bold colours, opulent costumes and coups de théâtre. Particularly effective (albeit not completely original) is the idea of introducing the protagonist (in Act I) inside a huge round revolving moon. Each gesture seemed to have a raison d’être, and I suspect that there were several operatic hints: for example, in Act III Turandot comes on stage wearing over her head a white veil that she keeps open with her arms outstretched like a cross, something that reminded me of Esclarmonde’s famous poster. Considering also that this was his debut as a stage director, Bertini showed remarkable skills in dealing with the huge number of people that an “epic” such as Turandot demands. The only faux pas came at the very end when the chorus removed their headgear waving them as if to wish a happy honeymoon to the newly weds.
Marco Balderi conducted with smooth and fluid professionalism, neglecting however to underline the timbric gems and especially the barbarian tones of the score: everything that represented harsh conflict, brutality and morbid passion was essentially foreign to his vision. Quite good was the chorus (led by Francesca Tosi), always closely knit and precise; the sopranos showed a piercing high register, with a hair-rising high C sharp at the end of “dove regna Turandot”.
The supporting cast included the fine baritone of Claudio Ottino as the Mandarin and an unusually vigorous Altoum, Marco Voleri. Bass Ing Sung Sim was interesting enough to make one wish to hear him in a showier role than Timur. Park Joungmin’s diction was too mangled to make the most of the role of Ping, while the other two masks, Nicola Pamio (Pang) and Francesco Pittari (Pong) gave neutral uninteresting performances.
Serena Farnocchia was an impeccable Liù by virtue of an iron-clad technique characterized by an immaculate breath dosing and control at every height, and a sound solidly placed in the “mask” allowing her to produce a homogeneous voice full of ring, a quality, the latter, not to be found in Lorenzo De Caro as Calaf. De Caro’s tenor is undoubtedly pleasing but ssmallish in volume, at least in a venue the size of the Gran Teatro. His principal defect is however a voice production that makes scarce use of the mask, resulting in a lack of overtones. His extension is remarkable: the optional high C of “ti voglio tutta ardente” was notably long, but produced little effect because of poor squillo; the same thing happened in “Nessun dorma”, received only with polite applause. Consequently De Caro, who has an impressive stage presence, was constantly drowned by the orchestra as well as the voice of the protagonist in all their confrontations.
The protagonist was Lise Lindstrom, making her debut at the Festival Puccini in a role that has introduced her to several other important opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Royal Opera House in London. If one expects a real dramatic soprano in the role of the Icy Princess, in the mould of the most acclaimed historic interpreters of the part, the Californian soprano (a true “Golden Girl of the West, being born in Sonora!) may be a disappointment.
Turandot is an unusual role in the Italian repertoire. These are its identifying elements: an almost total lack of legato phrases; passaggio notes such as E, F and G uncomfortably exposed, and to be attacked with impetus, with a voice production type of clear German influence (and this perfectly explains the reason so many Wagner and Strauss specialists have always gravitated around this role) and whose effect is magnified by the sidereal emptiness the orchestra creates around them; ascending phrases characterized by staccato notes and projected towards high notes to be held for a long time and to which the whole psychological meaning of that particular moment is assigned. Miss Lindstrom successfully overcomes these types of obstacles.
She is not the snarly, tooth-grinding, furious and metallic Princess of the most established tradition. She cannot be the Tigress always ready to savage and tear everyone to pieces with every word, every syllable. Miss Lindstrom’s timbre, cold and nacreous, with a vein of pathetic nature and subtle melancholy, is nevertheless a good psychological fit for the role of Turandot. She emerges from the brutal tessitura thanks to the incredible thrust, fluidity and shine of her high register, which is always unobstructed, crystalline and extremely penetrating. She always “sings”, without resorting to screams; like a laser, her instrument does not lose focus or give feelings of fatigue or hoarseness. Every time the soprano is required to spring with impetus, Miss Lindstrom stands out with her pitch-perfect brilliant and pure top. The high B on “quel grido” in her entrance aria was an amazingly easy and fulminating note.
The slenderness of middle and low registers is in a way the psychological signature of her Princess and the most characteristic element of her interpretation when she voices her feelings in a more subdued and modulated singing. The memory of the “ava dolce e serena” Lou-Ling is mercy and yearning rather than desire of fierce revenge. An evasive yet irrefutable melancholy penetrates the character throughout the opera, expressing itself with elegiac and nostalgic streaks, and hints of mysterious languor. Ultimately, for this Turandot cruelty is a sort of psychological infirmity, not a second nature or libido.
At any event the performance was ultimately a success because performers come and go, while a production – in this type of festival – is meant to last a long time, and there is no doubt that this one will be able to fulfill this duty.