Review: Opera Australia's 'Turandot' at the Sydney Opera House

Review By Priscilla Issa


Visual grandeur is the most appropriate phrase to describe the musical spectacle that was Opera Australia’s Turandot. Shane Placentino’s revival of Graeme Murphy’s production was a daring take on the well-loved opera. The company has historically catered well to devoted Puccini fans, having executed La Bohème (2018) and Madama Butterfly (2020) with resounding success. Set in China, Turandot, with its impressive vocal gymnastics, orchestral and chorus apotheoses, and opulence lived up to Opera Australia’s reputation – and perhaps exceeded expectations. Puccini tells the mystical story of Turandot, a beautiful but vengeful, princess. She is indomitable and livid at the actions of men towards her ancestors. So, she attempts to preserve control over her body and soul. She poses three questions to her many suitors. Whoever solves the puzzles may have her hand in marriage. But those who attempt and fail are sentenced to death. When a courageous Calàf manages to pull off the seemingly impossible, Turandot is confused; a part of her is angry and the other part experiences tenderness towards this enigmatic man. Lise Lindstom’s vocal nuances highlighted the character’s indecision with power and vulnerability, the strength melting into affection and admiration. She is charismatic, glamourous, and commanding. Her voice soars over the orchestra, soloists, and chorus, leading to that delicious high C. Equally as captivating was Yonghoon Lee in the role of Calàf. This suitor solves the riddles and claims his prize, the marriage to the princess. Not only was Lee’s take on the celebrated “Nessun dorma” performed with solid anchoring, but there was also a sense of sensitivity, yearning and ease in that sensational high “B”. His control and inflections in tone are to be commended. Karah Son played Liù, the servant who tends to Timur, Calàf’s father. Easily a crowd favourite, Son was moving in her arias. Her ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’ was emotional and did not lack the naïveté necessary for the role. It was her exquisite ‘Signore, ascolta’ that was the model of love. Her upper register was sumptuous and perfectly placed. What is Turandot without a remarkable chorus? Filling the house with sonority, the singers created the feeling of being in a Chinese totalitarian state. Surrounded by enormous set pieces, including towering Chinese dragons, fortresses and a banner of the moon, the chorus performed Murphy’s choreography with precision. The ribbons, swords, prim and proper black and white costumes, and cloned long plaits were reflective of the kingdom’s repression. The audience could not help but stand in rapturous applause for the experienced conductor, Renato Palumbo. The orchestra was faithful to Puccini’s score, handling the complex mélange of East-meets-West harmonies and melodies. The soloists sang with courage on what can be described as a monumental stage. However, the performances could have been enhanced if the singers engaged with one another rather than flick their attention from the audience to each other. Occasionally, the distance made it difficult for the performers to execute their polyphonic lines with absolute precision, especially against the monolith that was the chorus’s sound. Nevertheless, this production is one of emotion and of intrigue. Its colour, set and costumes certainly took advantage of the technical possibilities of the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Congratulations on a brilliant premiere!

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