In Geneva, an illuminated Turandot - ResMusica

In Geneva, an illuminated Turandot – ResMusica

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Geneva, Grand Theatre. 20-VI-2022. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924): Turandot, lyric drama in 3 acts on a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni after the homonymous play by Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806). Version with Luciano Berio’s finale. Director: Daniel Kramer. Scenography and digital art: teamLab. Scenic design: teamLab Architects. Costumes: Kimie Nakano. Lights: Simon Trottet. Choreography: Tim Claydon. Dramaturgy: Stephan Müller. With: Ingela Brimberg, Turandot; Francesca Dotto, Liù; Teodor Ilincai, Calaf; Chris Merritt, Altoum; Liang Li, Timur; Simone del Savio, Ping; Sam Furness, Pang; Julien Henric, Pong; Michael Modifian, the Mandarin. Choir of the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Masters of the Conservatoire Populaire (choral director: Alan Woodbridge). Orchestra of French-speaking Switzerland. Musical direction: Antonio Fogliani

Strange success, yet largely deserved, of this production of Turandot by Giacomo Puccini where the colorful and phantasmagorical invasion of the scenography robs the glory of the very essence of opera, the voice.

The scene crossed by fine rays of blue lights which, like the threads of a weaving in the making, meet near the hangers to mix in a milky cloud and, little by little, open up to reveal the Emperor Altoum, while dressed in white dominating a black and blood-red world which is torn at his feet, here is one of the breathtaking images of this Turandot by Giacomo Puccini at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

As director Daniel Kamer conceives this Turandot like a macho adventure, against a background of violence against women, the architects, as well as the engineers and artists of the TeamLab collective in Tokyo, inhabited by oriental thought, have taken hold of this opera to tackle with the technical means at their disposal developed in their laboratories a poetic fresco of stunning dreamlike intensity. The visual power of the sets, of the lights, of the costumes, of the choreography is so significant that the aspect of the marvelous tale, in the magical or extraordinary sense of the term, takes over the cruel and bloodthirsty aspect of this story.

From a large balcony, a rectangular box topped with whitish tulle, the people of the court witness the overflow of the crowd, the tortures of the unfortunate suitors at the hand of Turandot, a terrifying black spider descending from the hangers to order the death of the condemned. On the other side of this decor, by means of a turntable, we discover a pyramidal structure made up of stairs and openings leading to small spaces like so many niches. A setting symbolizing the two faces of the main characters, the place where the raw reality of the facts takes place and the other side, where feelings are expressed.

The costumes (Kimie Nakano), original and magnificent, contribute to the magic of the show. Dressed in immaculate coveralls covering them from head to toe, like “ubuic” nuns, their cornettes mounted as an extension of their bodies, the dress of the people of the Emperor’s court contrasts with that, more conventional of the pretenders to the hand of Turandot. Ping, Pang and Pong, here treated as the buffoons of the Empire, appear in colorful costumes and/or dressed in large black velvet coats adorned with large pearl necklaces depending on whether they are expressing nostalgia for their past life or they take part in the theatrical action of the court.

So we let ourselves be carried away by the play of images and lights, that we would forget the purpose of the plot. Some scenes could be just the brilliant packaging of a staging that does not always respect the libretto, but others question the informed and picky amateur. Thus, throughout his show, Daniel Kramer contrives to show scenes of emasculation, castrated characters to emphasize that there would only be eunuchs at the Altoum Palace. One could understand this, since Turandot, traumatized by the assassination of her grandmother, will only agree to love a man if he answers three questions. In case of defeat, he will have his head (and incidentally his genitals) cut off. Very well. So, in this world of eunuchs, where does this string of children come from that Puccini wanted to see their presence?


But do not sulk our visual pleasure since it is able to erase certain freedoms of staging, but also to make accept a very average vocal plateau. Starting with the title role of Ingela Brimberg (Turandot) whose performance we had nevertheless admired in theElectra of Richard Strauss on this same stage. Here, the Swedish soprano lacks the legato necessary for the Italian character of Puccinian singing. Perhaps by restraining her vocal power she could have better modulated the expression and take care of her diction without losing the displayed cruelty of her character. At his side, the Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincăi (Calaf) appears to us vocally tired. Often in conflict with the tuning fork, his voice lacks sunshine and his ” Nessun slept gets only timid applause. Of the trio of protagonists, Francesca Dotto (Liù) stands out with a solid performance even though the lyrical story offered us protagonists of the role with more aerial and more subtle pianissimi than those of the Italian soprano. The best singer on this set, the baritone Liang Li (Timur) is imbued with his role, which he presents with an ardor and vocal certainty that are matched only by his good knowledge of the character (even miraculously cured of his blindness by the messianic will of the director). Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for American tenor Chris Merritt (Altoum) whose years have taken away his vocal flamboyance, leaving him only a sad threadbare voice.

Even more than usual, the Choir of the Grand Théâtre de Genève is dazzling. What strength, what unity, what timeliness! Aware of his role, he surpasses himself in power, each leading the other in the most perfect musical expression.

From the pit, the Italian conductor Antonio Fogliani only partially succeeds in energizing a good Orchester de la Suisse Romande. In particular, in the finale of Luciano Berio chosen for this version which contrasts with the surge, the magnitude of the dazzling music of Giacomo Puccini received since the beginning of the evening. The wonder that kept us in suspense suddenly deflates in this finale, leaving us a little disappointed and perplexed by this musical fainting. Franco Alfano’s finale, sometimes described as a firefighter, but flamboyant, would have been better suited to end this colorful and spectacular production than Luciano Berio’s chamber version.

The fact remains that the public, overwhelmed by so much visual richness, reserved a triumph for the scenic protagonists of this production, whom they applauded far more than the singers.

Photo credit: © Magali Dougados

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Geneva, Grand Theatre. 20-VI-2022. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924): Turandot, lyric drama in 3 acts on a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni after the homonymous play by Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806). Version with Luciano Berio’s finale. Director: Daniel Kramer. Scenography and digital art: teamLab. Scenic design: teamLab Architects. Costumes: Kimie Nakano. Lights: Simon Trottet. Choreography: Tim Claydon. Dramaturgy: Stephan Müller. With: Ingela Brimberg, Turandot; Francesca Dotto, Liù; Teodor Ilincai, Calaf; Chris Merritt, Altoum; Liang Li, Timur; Simone del Savio, Ping; Sam Furness, Pang; Julien Henric, Pong; Michael Modifian, the Mandarin. Choir of the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Masters of the Conservatoire Populaire (choral director: Alan Woodbridge). Orchestra of French-speaking Switzerland. Musical direction: Antonio Fogliani

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