My absolute favourite opera performance ever. Ever. Yonghoon Lee was something else! As I mentioned in a “Favourites of 2015” article-
“This is the opera that has made me fall in love with opera. Graeme Murphy’s latest production of Puccini’s Turandot is nothing less than absolutely stunning- beautiful sets, soaring music and the incredible tenor Yonghoon Lee. It was perfect.”
Opera, by its very definition, should be grand and dramatic. It should be colourful and magnificent, with soaring notes and breathtaking sets. Its story should capture you completely for that moment that you are in the Opera Hall, lost in that world of poetry and romanticism. Opera Australia’s latest production of Turandot is exactly that opera, and I was completely captivated from the first note.
Turandot was Puccini’s final opera, and one that had to be completed by Franco Alfano after his death. The opera is of course most famous for its pinnacle aria, Nessun Dorma, but the music that surrounds this famous piece is no less grand. There are several beautiful traditional Chinese melodies that are interwoven into the score. The strong leitmotif for the Princess herself is perhaps my favourite, an all at once fierce and beautiful piece of music.
The story is quite unique for an opera, as it is not all death and tragedy (although there is a little, couldn’t stray too far from the norm!). Instead it tells of a cold-hearted, ruthless and (of course) unobtainably beautiful Princess Turandot. The first moment she is introduced is breathtaking- as the music soars giant fans unfurl to reveal the imposing figure set upon a high pedestal. Lise Lindstrommade for a fantastic Turandot, her commanding voice reaching out from the stage and demanding that we both love and fear her.
The princess enforces that any prince wishing to marry her must first pass her test of three riddles, and if he fails than he is to be executed. Turandot’s justification in her reign of blood is that her ancestor Princess Lou Ling was taken, ravished and murdered by an invading foreign prince, and she will not let any man possess her in revenge. We are soon introduced to the newest suitor for the Princess, the young son of an exiled king whose name is Calaf. He glimpses the princess and is immediately enraptured by her, so declaring that he will answer her riddles despite the pleading of his father and the young slave girl Liu, who is in love with Calaf.
In the role of Liu is Hyeseong Kwon, who is perfect in the role. Her voice rises with such beautiful tragedy… empathetically pulling at your heartstrings with her loyalty to her unrequited love, and conveying her feelings through the most aching facial expressions and pure voice.
Calaf enters the palace, brave and determined- and succeeds in answering all three riddles. The Princess is furious, and so Calaf challenges that if she is able to discover his name before the sun rises that she may execute him. It is here that he sings of the sleepless night, that Nessun Dorma, and oh wow. Nothing could really prepare you for hearing this magnificent aria sung live, with the full orchestra and the incredible vocal talents of a magnificent tenor. The crowd was in thunderous applause, and I couldn’t help but feel a little teary at how breathtaking it all was.
Turandot drags sweet little Liu into the palace for questioning, but Liu will not give up her love and so fatally stabs herself (there is our operatic tragedy). Left alone, Calaf boldly kisses Turandot in an attempt to convey his emotions and Turandot, feeling for the first time, sheds tears. Declaring it no longer matters Calaf reveals to Turandot his name, at which she strides boldly to the palace and declares she has discovered the secret. That his name is Love. The lovers embrace and the music soars into the happiness of ever after. A happy ending! Finally!
Everything is conveyed beautifully by Graeme Murphy’s direction, the movement throughout the stage is fluid and sweeping with Oriental gowns, long hair and giant fans. Weapons gleam in the light, shining into the crowd with blinding brilliance. The chorus is large, and gathered on the relatively small stage their presence seems even larger. Throughout there are several moments that are just so exquisite that they take your breath away.
Although all the performances are spectacular in this opera, none stands out more than the incredible Yonghoon Lee. What a voice! Although Calaf could be considered quite frustrating with his desire for the Princess and proclamations of “I must have her”, with that voice he can be easily forgiven for his flaws. Yonghoon is a perfect representation of Calaf, his stance bodes fearless determination and his expression stoic proclamations of love. He is also quite handsome, and you feel yourself hoping for his success, which I feel contributes significantly to the overall success of the opera!
Every moment had me breathless, a magnificent spectacle of soaring music and grand costumes. I was enraptured by the characters, and captivated by the staging. I have seen many operas before, but this production of Turandot has made me fall Calaf-style in love with opera.