A Listless “Turandot” Opens San Diego Opera 2011 Season

American soprano Lise Lindstrom is Turandot in San Diego Opera’s Turandot. January, 2011. Photo © Cory Weaver.

Review by David Gregson, Wednesday, February 2.

Despite unusually listless conducting courtesy of venerable Maestro Edoardo Müller, the second evening of Turandot (in a four-performance run that began Saturday), was a qualified success. The San Diego Symphony played well, as one might expect, but the performance lacked punch and was consistently devoid of excitement. What should have been special was simply routine.

Still, few opera goers are likely to be disappointed. This is the brilliantly hued, eye-popping painterly David Hockney show making its umpteenth appearance on the great shared-opera-production circuit. And the production offers, for once and perhaps for all, an Ice Princess one might conceivably be willing to lose one’s head for — American soprano Lise Lindstrom.

Hagen, Jaho, Ventre. Photo © Cory Weaver.

Lindstrom has the lungs for this often very loud part, and she looks terribly soigne in her robe Chinoise and glittery headdress. Very much to her credit, Lindstrom shades the part vocally (much more, in fact, than many more famous exponents of the part), and one truly feels a real woman exists beneath the frigid exterior. Brava!

The only conceivable vocal let down in this show might be Turandot’s dauntless anonymous suitor (can you guess his name?) sung here by tenor Carlo Ventre — and yet, on the whole, he does a very respectable job. The voice is a decent one, but it doesn’t thrill as it ideally should; nor does Mr. Ventre cut a dashing figure on stage. Needless to say, the hit tune which made this opera famous, “Nessun Dorma,” did not knock one’s socks off. I am old enough to remember when this aria was not very well known at all and productions of Turandot were a relative rarity. I think Mr. Pavarotti changed all that.

Unfortunately, I also think most people still hear Pavarotti in their heads the moment “Nessun Dorma” (“Nobody Shall Sleep”) is mentioned, so tenorally speaking, none but the brave dare take it on.

Poor little Liù, the hapless slave girl hopelessly in love with Calàf and unwilling, literally to the point of death, to reveal his name while most people in fact not sleeping but rushing about trying to figure out just what this man’s name is. Soprano Ermonela Jaho was extremely effective in this sympathetic role. Her two arias were quite lovely and generated considerable pathos. And in the same pathos department, she was superbly matched by basso Reinhard Hagen as Calàf’s father, the dethroned Tartar king, Timur.

The Ping Pang Pong players were excellent — delightfully athletic and comical when necessary, and wonderfully evoking homesick nostalgia at the outset of Act Two. They were and are baritone Jeff Mattsey (Ping), tenor Joel Sorensen (Pang) and tenor Joseph Hu (Pong) — and good luck to anybody trying to distinguish (in memory) one character from the others. This terrific 3P trio was designed as an ensemble effort from the get go, and in this show they were a distinct highlight.

I have often thought that instead of asking three riddles, Turandot should ask which one is Ping, which Pang and so forth. She could quickly increase the size of her severed head collection.

Tenor Joseph Frank served well as the ancient Emperor Altoum, and bass baritone Scott Sikon handled the duties of the Mandarin with notable expertise.

Lotfi Mansouri made good use of the cramped ziggy-zaggy performing spaces, although it beats me how Calàf can fall in love with a divine creature he can see only in a hazy blur through a dimly lighted scrim or how he can comment on the Prince of Persia so passionately when said Prince is still way off stage in a long, slow procession.

The chorus, always wonderful in the SDO productions, was stunning throughout. This time we have acting chorus master Charles Prestinari to thank, and the excellent lighting, of paramount importance where Hockney’s designs are concerned, was executed by Michael Whitfield.

Very enjoyable — but someone tell Müller not to drink any more decaf!

Joseph Hu, Jeff Mattsey Joel Sorensen (Pong, Ping, Pang). Photo © Cory Weaver.

Saturday Jan 29, 7pm
Tuesday Feb 1, 7pm
Friday Feb 4, 8pm
Sunday Feb 6, 2pm

Turandot: Lise Lindstrom
Calàf: Carlo Ventre
Liù: Ermonela Jaho
Timur: Reinhard Hagen
Ping: Jeff Mattsey
Pang: Joel Sorensen
Pong: Joseph Hu
Emperor Altoum; Joseph Frank
A Mandarin: Scott Sikon

Conductor: Edoardo Müller
Director: Lotfi Mansouri

American soprano Lise Lindstrom is Turandot in San Diego Opera’s Turandot. January, 2011. Photo © Cory Weaver.

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