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Friday, 08 December 2017 17:44

Review: 'Turandot' at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Finding love is hard. What someone else wants can sometimes be a riddle, but in the case of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ it’s quite literal. The Lyric Opera of Chicago welcomes back the classic Eastern-flavored piece that is new to Chicago but has previously been seen in a few other American cities. Directed by Rob Kearley, this quick opera is an intellectual alternative to the scads of warmed-over holiday specials offered by most other theaters in December.

‘Turandot’ is a somewhat culturally insensitive Chinese fairy tale. In it, Princess Turandot (sung by Amber Wagner) is a mysterious princess who asks her suitors to answer three riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in death. She goes through suitors quickly until a non-noble, Calaf (Stefano La Colla), is able to correctly guess the answers. Calaf is beloved by his father’s slave Liu (Maria Agresta), but he blindly persists in his conquest of Turandot.

While Amber Wagner is a vocal sensation, there’s something missing in her performance. Stefano La Colla on the other hand is both a fantastic vocalist as well as a convincing actor, something not exactly mutually exclusive in opera. Though, the evening’s real stand out may well be Maria Agresta who will be singing Liu for the December performance dates. Her Liu is very moving.

Puccini’s score is stunning. This is a more modern opera in that it was first presented in 1926. The rich choral arrangements and individual songs with melodies and harmonies make this sound like a traditional musical. It’s not hard to hear ‘Les Miserables’ in the large cast choruses. The music is strong enough to overshadow the none-too-subtle themes of Orientalism and misogyny.

Thankfully, the set pieces and costumes (which are mostly very tasteful) are the only uses of what some would call “yellow face.” The intricate sets designed by Allen Charles Klein are beautiful. The colors and contrasting layers are dazzling and the perfect companion to the soaring music.

‘Turandot’ was Puccini’s final work and he died before completing it. There’s a well-accepted conclusion written by Alfano based on sketches left behind. Some productions simply end where Puccini ended, but that seems a bit disappointing. Kearley opts for the Alfano conclusion. Operas can feel a little endless for the uninitiated. Have no fear, ‘Turandot’ is a swift and engrossing three hours. This is a great beginner opera for those looking to culture themselves this holiday season.

Through January 27th at Lyric Opera Chicago. 20 N Upper Wacker Dr. 312-332-2244

 

 

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