Anna Netrebko in the (not so) complete Turandot
On Friday, January 31 we attended the second performance of Turandot in a series of three with Anna “Trebs” Netrebko. Expectations were high as this was billed as the first appearance of Netrebko in a complete Turandot. Earlier she has sung “In questa reggia” in several concert performances and the complete second act at the Met. But actually, it was not that complete – more about this later.
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Turandot (Giacomo Puccini). Dramma lirico in three acts. 1924. Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, after the fairy-tale drama by Carlo Gozzi. First performance at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 25th April 1926.
Attended performance: 31 January, 2020, Bayerische Staatsoper München
La principessa Turandot: Anna Netrebko
L’imperatore Altoum: Ulrich Reß
Timur, Re tartaro spodestato: Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Il principe ignoto (Calaf): Yusif Eyvazov
Liù: Selene Zanetti
Ping: Boris Prýgl
Pang: Manuel Günther
Pong: Andres Agudelo
Un mandarino: Bálint Szabó
Il principe di Persia: Andres Agudelo
Kinderchor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Chor, Extrachor und Kinderchor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Conductor: Giacomo Sagripanti
Direction: Carlus Padrissa – La Fura dels Baus
Is this Cirque du Soleil ?
This was not a new staging. It dates from 2011 directed by Carlus Padrissa from Fura del Baus. As usual, the staging by Fura del Baus was eccentric and with lots of stage action. There were always circus artists on stage and many people flying around. And a gigantic eye/iris goes up and down. There are huge videos playing in the background at the same time. It seems Padrissa tries to do better than Cirque du Soleil. And what about all these ice skating revue girls? Where do they fit in? Less would have been more. And why is the slave girl Liu dressed like a princess?
It seems that Padrissa is more interested in directing his circus acts than in the main characters. With all the mayhem around them there is not much need or possibility for the singers to act properly anyway. Thus, the singers were static most of the time.
The conductor Giacomo Sagripanti does not do much to improve the performance. Very often he plays so loud that neither the chorus nor the tenor can be heard. Puccini wrote some very magical orchestral and chorus pieces in Turandot: The moonlight chorus in act one, the introduction to act three and our personal favourite, the march in act two at the end of the scene with the three masques. Sagripanti failed on all three to make any impact and even less to create magic.
Puccini wrote some excellent and beautiful music for Ping, Pang and Pong, especially for their big scene in act two. It requires some very good and experienced singers to pull this off. Good casting of the three is essential for the success of a Turandot performance. The three in this performance were second rate. They did not succeed with their ensembles nor in the individual solos. Karajan for example wisely chose Araiza, Zednik and Hornik for his Turandot recording. The mandarin Balint Szabo failed to impress too.
Timur, sung by Alexander Tsymbalyuk, was much better. His farewell to Liu was well sung and very touching. Selene Zanetti, who sang Liu, did well. She has a fine and beautiful lyric soprano voice. Her two arias were very touching. Only sometimes she was a bit unsteady.
Yusif Eyvazov did not have one of his better days. His somewhat dry voice was even more unspectacular than usual. And there was no fire and excitement in his singing. To make things worse he often had to fight with the loud orchestra. We have heard him in much better voice condition as, for example, Manrico. His “Nessun dorma” was okay but without any finesse.
Which brings us to the star of this performance: Anna Netrebko’s Turandot.
She started “In questa reggia” with a bit coarse voice, which did not bode well. She continued with some high notes shouting or screaming them rather than singing. She also had a few insecurities during the aria. It seemed she had to fight with her voice throughout. The difference between her lower (very dark) and upper register had grown lately. It got better in the riddle scene. But it was not very exciting mainly because of the unspectacular tenor.
We know that she had enormous success with her act two Turandot at the Met. And we have heard several of her concert performances of “In questa reggia” on video. All were better than tonight’s performance.
We hope that Anna Netrebko had just one of her lesser days. Based on this performance she might think twice before venturing into more dramatic roles such as Salome. She evolved from an excellent lyric coloratura soprano to a very good spinto. The verdict on dramatic soprano will come later. We know that some famous sopranos went outside their Fach and sang Turandot. Sutherland and Ricciarelli did it on record. We ourselves attended an outstanding live performance of Turandot by Caballé.
And last but not least a word about “completeness”. This performance stopped with the death of Liu and where Puccini finished composing. The completion of the opera with the Turandot/Calaf duet and the final scene was done by Alfano (and others). It is musically controversial and Toscanini detested it. Still – we go to the opera to experience a complete package of music, song, acting, plot, drama, emotion. Most operas finish with death or a happy ending. An opera which has no ending is not a complete experience and we feel cheated. All Turandot performances we have seen (and there are many) had the Alfano ending. Although we admit that the change in the music during the duet is apparent, we still prefer it. And the final scene again repeats Puccini’s music.
No way was this Netrebko’s first complete Turandot. She sang act two and very few lines in act three. We still wait for her complete Turandot.
This was an evening which started with great expectations and ended with some disappointments. We would like to hear Netrebko again as Turandot in the Met Zeffirelli staging with a great conductor such as Luisi or Nézet-Séguin. That would allow me to have a second opinion about Anna Netrebko’s Turandot.