This original and new production by Opera Carolina is a showcase for the company's maturity and capacity to put on stage strikingly beautiful sets, costumes, and projections. The Charlotte public was treated to compelling, sleek, minimalistic sets using platforms, staircases, and panels hanging from the top, that achieved in several moments breathtaking beauty when the projections were added to the background. See, for example, this scene:
Add to this some rather extraordinary musical values in terms of principal singers and comprimarios, chorus, and orchestral conducting and playing, and you have one of the best shows of the last several years, anywhere in North Carolina and beyond. Actually, I'm convinced that these days Opera Carolina is the leading company in the entire Southeastern United States.
This production was struck by illness twice. International tenor star Marcello Giordani pulled out of it for health reasons, and the last minute replacement, Carl Tanner, sang while battling a case of bronchitis.
Stepping in on short notice and being ill himself, Mr. Tanner was simply outstanding. I interviewed him five days before opening night and learned of his respiratory ailment. Upon attending the performance, I couldn't tell, because his singing was top-notch. I thought he had made a complete recovery from his illness. To my surprise, when I asked Maestro Meena in the after-party at Blue Restaurant why Carl wasn't there, he told me that he retired early due to still being sick. This is rather extraordinary, folks. Caláf is not an easy role – it is shouty, long, and with high tessitura. Mr. Tanner being able to do so well in a role like this one while being sick is a rather impressive feat, confirming what one would already expect from his illustrious career. Besides, Carl is a very interesting man – he had a late start in opera, and was a truck driver, bounty hunter and singing waiter in a restaurant until he was discovered by the General Manager of Santa Fe Opera – and from there, he went on to a fabulous career with several roles at the Met, as well as Covent Garden, La Scala, Liceu, Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and many other prestigious houses. Don't miss his Opera Lively interview (the link is above, right after the list of principal singers).
Carl sounded clear and crystalline, with good diction and phrasing, excellent volume and projection, and he kept his pitch accurate when navigating the several passagio runs required by the role which sits a bit higher than the usual tenor range, forcing the singer to use the head voice quite a lot, which Carl did with ease. The "Nessun Dorma" was delivered beautifully.
Othalie Graham is a veteran of the title role, and she acted and sung it perfectly, with appropriately steely runs of her high notes while the Icy Princess was still arrogant and distant, and touching and more mellow phrasing and tone once Caláf wins her heart. She also looked fabulous.
Dina Kuznetsova sang Liù with delicacy and passion.
Kevin Langan did a very convincing Timur in acting and voice. The trio Ping-Pong-Pang not only had formidable costumes (three different sets; in one of them they looked like giants) but they also had good timing for the comedic relief pieces, and sang well (Guagliardo and Hu better than Bocchino but the latter was correct enough).
The two more minor comprimario roles of The Mandarin and The Emperor Altoum were well staffed by Fortson and White. In summary, singing was very homogeneously good, reaching the excellent level for the four main singers.
It is almost redundant to praise Maestro Meena. He hasn't disappointed me once. His performances are always thrilling. The man is an accomplished operatic conductor, and not only his reading of the score is very lively resulting in full sound, but he also understands dynamics very well, keeping great control of the different sections of the orchestra, so that the pit goes down to a whisper when the singers need to go pianissimo, and wakes up in all force and fanfarre in the forte scenes. Another characteristic of Opera Carolina is that by virtue of their permanent contract with the Charlotte Symphony, they count on a stable orchestra with continuity, and musicians that are used to playing together, unlike some other regional companies that rely on pick-up orchestras.
Turandot is a chorus-heavy piece – Puccini's opera with the most choral music. Therefore, a good chorus is a make-it-or-break-it issue for this opera. While the chorus was responsible for the only musical moment that wasn't entirely satisfactory – a slow start/warm up with rough and abrupt edges during the first act – it recovered entirely and delivered big in second and third acts.
Stage direction was competent with good blocking that made full use of the platforms and staircases, and provided harmonious displacements for the large choral forces. Acting wasn't the strongest point of this show, though, with some uneveness: Othalie Graham, Kevin Langan, and the Ping-Pong-Pang trio Guagliardo, Bocchino, and Hu were on the plus side, while their colleagues were a notch behind. Costumes were both beautiful and imaginative, with some dose of humor.
Lighting and projections deserve special praise. Again, just like in The Pearl Fishers, Opera Carolina makes very visually attractive productions, thanks in great part to Michael Baumgarten's clever projections.
Conducting and orchestral playing, A++
Chorus singing, A- (abrupt transitions and warm-up problems in act 1 drop a bit the rating, but Acts 2 and 3 would qualify for A+)
Main roles, Caláf A++, Turandot A, Liù A, Timur A+
Lighting/Projection Design, A++
Stage Direction A
Acting, uneven, varying from B+ to A+; globally, A-
This is, then, a straight A production, which qualifies it as one of the best of the recent several years. Three elements achieved A++ (conducting/orchestral playing, leading tenor role, and lighting/projection) and then we get four As, two A-s, and one A+, so the overall average would have to be A+, but with the understanding that this is closer to A++ then one would imagine looking only at the average, given that the high performing parts *are* the most essential elements of this opera (in spite of the title role being Turandot's, her music is 22 minutes long in this piece that lasts for approximately 130 minutes; so a great Caláf is even more important, and playing it well in the pit is also essential given how interesting this score is, and when you supplement this with great visuals, you have a highly recommended show). Besides, let's not forget that this *is* a straight A production, and this is more impressive than the average, so, it's an A+ that in my mind is actually an A++.
There are two more shows for which there are tickets left, so, those who are at driving distance from Charlotte should not miss this outstanding production. The next days and times are in the banner below. Tickets can be obtained at www.operacarolina.org.
Interview by Luiz Gazzola from operalively.com – click here to visit the full article.