Michel Corbeil as Pong, Peter Blanchet as Pang, and Gregory Dahl as Ping; photo by Tim Matheson
Sally Dibblee as Liu and Renzo Zulian as Calaf

Vancouver Opera

by Giacomo Puccini

Dates 22, 25, 27, 29 October and 1 and 3 November 2005 at 19.30 Venue Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer J H Stape

Audrey Stottler
Audrey Stottler as Turandot

Turandot Audrey Stottler Calaf Renzo Zulian Liù Sally Dibblee Timur Valerian Ruminski Ping Gregory Dahl Pang Peter Blanchet Pong Michel Corbeil Emperor Peter Butterfield Mandarin Etienne Dupuis

Conductor Tyrone Paterson Director Brian Deedrick Chorus Director Leslie Dala Costumes Anna Munn

Opera doesn't get any grander than Turandot, Puccini's last, most "modern" work for the operatic stage. Left incomplete on its composer's death, the opera at its 1926 premiere had Toscanini put down his baton at the point at which the composer had laid down his pen. Productions since have relied on a student's workmanlike ending with a reprise of "Nessun dorma."

Turandot's music bars no holds, and its challenges to singers, producers, and directors are a true test of mettle. Based on a Persian legend and set in ancient Peking, the tale is stuff of fairytale, myth, and archetype, and any company mounting it knows that there's no stinting. The current revival by Vancouver Opera sees a return of the magnificent sets seen its 1997 season. This production is sheer magic -- one of those moments when everything comes together in the theatre.

Both Renzo Zulian (Calaf) and Audrey Stottler (Turandot) have made this opera a mainstay in their repertoires, singing it world over, and bringing experience and authority to their roles. The demands are for Turandot are formidable: her vocal entrance is a minefield with the notoriously treacherous aria "In questa regia." Dramatically, she must move from ice princess to melting lover. Stottler's rich, huge voice was met head-on by Zulian, whose Calaf was artfully crafted and vocally confident. His trial-by-riddle proved his steely mettle, and "Nessun dorma" simply brought down the rafters.

A touching Liù, Sally Dibblee conveyed vulnerability and faithfulness-unto-death with well honed acting skills and sang gloriously, her "Signore, ascolta," metaphorically, leaving no dry eye in the house. Timur was ably sung by Valerian Ruminski, offering yet another strong characterization in an evening on which dramatic and musical values meshed. And the mainly comic trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong offered theatrical vividness, poised singing, and dramatic flair to a production that relentlessly exposed (and exploited) every singer's acting skills.

However fine its principals and however well sung its minor roles and ingenious and intelligent the staging, Turandot also demands --imperiously and mercilessly -- an orchestra playing at white heat and a chorus on top form. This production boasts both, the diverse elements of this complex stage-piece falling so well into place that long before the end of the evening the audience reaches that exhilaration (Aristotle called it catharsis) only art can offer.

The crowds were out baying at the moon and shouting in the street after yet another sporting event where music soothes not "the savage breast." Some of us went home humming "Nessun dorma," sure that the imagination, not only Puccini's but also that of the huge cast and creative team that so generously served his ideas, opens a view onto more beautiful worlds than any we inhabit. Go, Vancouver Opera, go!

2005 J. H. Stape