Turandot, Bregenz Festival, July 2016Posted on 23 July 2016
Opening the Bregenz festival was Franco Faccio’s Hamlet in the 1,800 seat Festspielhaus — see my Telegraph review — followed by Turandot on the vast Seebühne (Lake Stage), visible to an open-air audience of nigh on 7,000, on the second night. The main part of the stage is relatively close to the water, but the backdrop, with towers on either side, reaches up nearly 30 metres, suiting operas of large or fantastical scope, and a few years ago during a performance of Zauberflöte, the Queen of the Night fell into the water!
No such calamities with Turandot, though on a high tower at the start of the opera the Persian prince — one of the princess’s suitors — is beheaded and his body thrown into the water far below. The executioner later delivers the decapitated head to those civil servants Ping, Pang and Pong, whose costumes at the start and end of the opera feature brightly coloured Chinese silks, with changes to modern suits and waistcoats, and solemn-looking gowns in the meantime. The ordinary people in Mao-type overalls offer a striking contrast to the ruling elite, whose almost limitless power is emphasised by a huge array of terracotta warriors extending from high up at the far rear of the stage to those half submerged in the water at the front. In this magnificent setting Turandot herself first appears on a real barge lit by Chinese lanterns, after a two-man canoe — surely not part of the production — has paddled slowly across the background.
The central circular part of the stage rotates, and opens out later to reflect projections of Chinese grandeur and Turandot’s inner thoughts, while at lake level a blue rectangular add-on, serving as a sanctuary for the unknown prince Calaf, represents the working environment, complete with piano, for Puccini himself.
In this intriguing set-up Rafael Rojas as Calaf sang a noble tenor, enchanted by the entrance of the ice-princess who clearly inspires his ardent yearning and subsequent solution to her riddles. Mlada Khudoley as Turandot herself sings with the clarity and huge power the role demands, beautifully backed up by the Vienna Symphoniker under the baton of Paolo Carignani. The sound of the orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Choir from within the Festspielhaus, along with that of the principals on stage, is carried by a semicircle of loudspeakers behind the audience giving directional clarity to individual performances on the Lake Stage. It works well, and with Manuel von Senden as Turandot’s father the emperor, Mika Kares as Calaf’s father the old king Timur, and Guanqun Yu singing gloriously as his assistant Liù, whose love for Calaf causes her to resist and die from the torture inflicted on her to discover Calaf’s name.
This spectacular production of Turandot by Marco Arturo Marelli, now in its second year, gives way to Carmen next summer, another opera well suited to the magnificent setting afforded by the Lake Stage in Bregenz.