Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, directed by Peter Rothstein, with Richard Margison, Eva Urbanová, Serena Farnocchia, Deyan Vatchkov and John Kriter. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Runs January 29, February 3 and 6 at 7:30 pm, matinees January 31 at 4:30 pm, February 1 at 2 pm. $40-$160, limited $20-$25 (ages 18 to 29). 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Although it contains the most famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (kicked around by those annoying three tenors), and a lush symphonic score, Puccini 's Turandot has always seemed a tough piece to pull off. The composer's last opera remains unfinished, and the anticlimactic dribbling in the final act - along with a fairly static plot and an unsympathetic title character - has meant it's often been better listened to than seen. The Canadian Opera Company 's production, sharply directed by Peter Rothstein , presents a strong argument for it. Rothstein emphasizes the fairy-tale aspects of the opera, which concerns an icy Chinese princess who beheads any male suitor who can't guess her riddles.
It's silly stuff, and slows down in the middle with a lot of undramatic doddering by characters unfortunately named Ping, Pang and Pong. But it's also one of the composer's richest scores, and Richard Bradshaw helms the orchestra and a fine cast in some thrilling moments.
Eva Urbanová tackles Turandot's high tessitura with awesome ease, letting us glimpse the scared girl beneath the frigid princess, while Richard Margison - he alternates with Mikhail Agafonov - delivers a smooth, lyrical suitor, even if he looks more rotund than before. Serena Farnocchia 's slave girl Liu, the most sympathetic character, wrenches every bit of feeling out of her two arias. And John Kriter comes up the middle with an impressive, firm performance as the Emperor Altoum.
What grounds the production is Rothstein's staging. He knows where to place his principals and how to get crowds on and offstage. Anita Stewart 's sets - heavy on the stair motif - heighten the storytelling, while Anna Oliver 's sumptuous costumes provide sufficient eye candy to make this jewel sparkle.