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Review: Turandot at the Arts Centre Melbourne

By Sam Barson

A brutal princess. A brave suitor. Riddles, sacrifice and death. The scene is set for Puccini’s opera Turandot, an epic and exotic fantasy of poetry and myth. 

Turandot tells the story of Prince Calaf, who takes up Princess Turandot’s challenge of winning her heart. To win her love he must answer three riddles, or die trying. 

Opera Australia has taken up the challenge of bringing Puccini’s final opera to the stage, with varying results of success throughout its near 3 hour run time. 

The production itself is slightly underwhelming. Whilst the costumes, set and lighting elements certainly leaned appropriately into the show’s era (the detail used to recreate the legendary Chinese era is impressive), unfortunately the various production elements were unable to engage. Yes, the show’s setting does not call for a wide variety of exciting colours, but I feel like an opportunity was missed to create a world that was more expressive and aesthetically pleasing. The costumes and set all blended into one without achieving any creative successes in doing so. 

One exception to this was the emperor’s throne in the third act. The throne was an epic and exotic monstrosity, that had the emperor’s head resting metres in the sky, making his rule seem ever so more controlling and definite. 

The lack of engagement that was achieved through production elements left room for the cast’s leading members to completely shine. Walter Fraccaro’s Caláf was charming, filled with equal amounts of bravado and sensitivity. Lise Lindstrom’s Turandot was immediately and sustainably captivating. The audience hung on to every movement and note that came out of her. The standout of the show however was Karah Son, as the slave of Caláf’s father who is tragically in love with Caláf. Her voice was like nothing I’d heard before, and considering her limited stage time she completely stole every moment she took centre stage in (as well as the residual moments after). 

The effectiveness of the ensemble was inconsistent throughout. There were moments when it felt like there were too many bodies on stage, however there were also moments where they became the most engaging part; executing synchronised and stylised movements that almost merged the group with the set. It was special seeing a group of such young ensemble members having their showcase moments as well. 

The orchestra, under the helm of Christian Badea, expectedly produced the most stunning of scores. 

Opera Australia and Kim Walker have done a commendable job in this revival of such a memorable and cherished opera. Some more risks might have been worthwhile, but it’s a loyal and uplifting revival nonetheless.  

Turandot is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre from Tuesday 19th November to Friday 6th December.

Image Credit: Jeff Busby

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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