The succession of masterpieces which Italian Opera consists of, lasting for 300 years, ended with “Turandot” in 1926, Puccini’s final opera. Nothing since approaches its stature or renown.

And Othalie Graham is rapidly becoming the Turandot of choice in the title role; it is easy to see why: On opening night of Opera Carolina’s production, she was a regal presence and has the ability to convey worlds with the slightest gesture.

A voice, however, is like a fine wine, and much depends upon when and how it is decanted. Graham’s rose to room temperature only during the second riddle on opening night. After that, the wine was vintage.

“Turandot” is a fairytale intensifying into myth. It is the story of the legendary ice princess, Turandot, beautiful beyond compare, who puts her suitors to the test of three riddles, and then who has them beheaded when they can not answer them. Finally (after murder and mayhem), she is bested by an Unknown Prince (Calaf) and the power of love.

Puccini, who knew that he was dying, wrote some of his most rapturous and urgent music for “Turandot”. The battery of gongs, xylophones, and chimes that he uses to portray a fabled Peking gives the orchestration an ominousness and a sumptuousness unlike anything else. The writing for chorus is Puccini at his most atmospheric.

The arias include “Nessun Dorma”, the most famous tenor aria of them all.

This evening’s “Nessun Dorma” was sung by Carl Tanner, brought in at the last moment to substitute for an ailing Marcello Giordani. Tanner is a crackling Calaf, the Unknown Prince, who wins Turandot. He gave his mythic character a personal immediacy. Lacking this, the whole huge edifice of the opera would have been undone.

Tanner was greatly abetted by a very sweetly and tenderly sung Liu in Dina Kuznetsova, and by Kevin Langan’s Timur, who touchingly portrayed his character’s fallen grandeur. John Fortson was in excellent form in the stentorian part of the Mandarin.

The Ping, Pang, and Pong of Guargliardo, Bocchino, and Hu respectively each made a vivid impression.

People at the old Metropolitan Opera house used to depart for supper during the second act music of Ping, Pang, and Pong. They would have missed some charming character-painting, and nicely blended singing if they did so here.

Puccini’s music is always in good hands with conductor James Meena, who brings the beautiful details of Puccini’s orchestration to the fore without stalling the dramatic momentum. His Puccini is a contemporary of Mahler and Debussy, a magician of orchestral and choral effects, as well as the composer of arias which blast your socks off.

The tympani are indispensable in Turandot, and seemed on opening night to glory in this. The chorus was remarkably agile not only with the hairspin shifts of moods of the populace of Peking, who they portray, but also the space of the music, the near and faraway of it. The addition of the youngsters from the Choir School at St, Peter’s lent a special beauty to these proceedings.

Set design, costuming, and lighting and projection went a long way to making this an exceptional production. Indeed, this might be described as old-school Puccini in the pit, but experimental on stage. The austere but apt sets worked well with the flamboyant but appropriate lighting and screen projections, and the simple but elegant deployment of the chorus and principals.

This production was like receiving a red, red rose on a cold winter’s night, and would be distinguished almost anywhere.
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