Reviewer's rating

Puccini died before completing Turandot; music after the death of Liù was composed by Franco Alfano. At its 1926 première, conductor Toscanini stopped where Puccini’s composition ended. He told the audience ‘At this point, the Maestro died’.

Andrei Serban’s production created in 1984, restores the tradition of opera as a grand spectacle. The oldest in the ROH repertoire, it is still fresh and exciting due to the colour, dance and scale. The combination of Sally Jacob’s stunning costumes and design including enormous grotesque masks, coupled with Kate Flatt’s choreography blending Chinese and western dance enhance the visual entertainment.  Why waste money on a new production? This one has it all.

Turandot is a barbaric, bloody tale. Princess Turandot’s aim is to avenge her ancestor who was cruelly treated and murdered by her husband. She tortures without guilt and is equally cruel and selfish, killing all suitors who cannot answer her three riddles. Her emperor father (Ukrainian Alexander Kreavets) descends on a vast golden throne from the clouds, despairs of her cruelty, worrying she will never get married!  Calaf, a deposed prince, is equally selfish, inexplicably falling in love with a woman behind a mask (although the Imperial crown to a deposed prince with nothing, is an attractive prospect). Despite the joyous reunion with his father, Timur, (a blind banished King), Calaf seems indifferent to the death of the slave girl Liù who helped Timur on his way, and his father’s fate.  Calaf even grabs his father’s stick to bang the gong as a new contestant, oblivious that Timur falls to the ground!

Antonio Pappano took the baton for the first time for Turandot. He added his touch of genius to the score, bringing out subtleties in the score rarely heard. He will be badly missed when he leaves.

The chorus is a central figure. Singing from tiered balconies at the back of the stage, they contribute strongly to the huge sound.

Irrespective of the production, the opera needs excellent soloists, and is perfectly cast.

Turandot is vocally extremely difficult. Italian dramatic soprano superstar Anna Pirozzi as Turandot, has the power needed. She is clearly heard over the full chorus and orchestra. She found a tenderness in the chilling steel of ‘in quest reggia’, which is rarely heard and most impressive. It is an exciting voice. ROH has been criticised for casting a white woman in a specifically Chinese part, but this is a fiendish part with very few women in the world capable of singing it.

South Korean tenor, Yonghoon Lee, is the best Calaf singing today, with  perfect chiselled good looks as well. His voice is commanding and powerful, yet brings incredible tenderness to some phrases of ‘nessun dorma’, which is rarely done, as well as the treacherous high C’s. However well one knows the aria, this is the best rendition that I have heard.

Former Jette Parker young artist, South African soprano, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, has caused a stir since winning the Song Prize in Cardiff Singer of the World 2021.  Her gorgeous, creamy voice and top pianissimi is well suited to Liù. The scene starting with Liù’s Act I aria ‘Signore, ascolta!), followed by Calaf’s ‘non piangere Liù’ was musical magic. The Act II aria, ‘tu che di gel’ which ends with her suicide was hertbreaking. She is a singer to be watched; she will do great things.

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Liù)

Pirozzi, Lee and Rangwanasha deservedly received rapturous applause.

Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow’s vibrant voice as Timur made one wish to hear more of him.

Ping Pang Pong, (commedia del Arte characters) were intentionally used by Puccini to add colour and contrast to the score, but they are annoying.  They were well sung, especially Hansung Yoo as Ping.

There is nothing like seeing Turandot live, due to the splendour and sheer power of the music, fabulous singing and choreography.

Tickets are sold out or very expensive, so the live/encore screenings on 22nd/26th March should not be missed as it is a magnificent evening in all respects.

The Royal Opera at it’s best. Nobody can sleep through this!