Opera Carolina’s second production of its season, Puccini’s Turandot, opened on January 24. This grand and improbable legend inspired Puccini to write some of his most intriguing music, and this production did the score justice. The cast was strong from top to bottom. Othalie Graham was a vocally secure Turandot, her gleaming tones well suited to the ice princess’s misanthropic resolve. The part is, in many ways, an unsympathetic one, but Graham’s interpretation was engaging to watch.
Much more naturally engaging, and obviously one of Puccini’s female favorites, is the faithful slave girl Liù. Dina Kuznetsova sang the part with assured and sweet tones that made one wonder why the stubborn Prince Calàf insisted on loving the cold Turandot. As Calàf, Carl Tanner substituted for an indisposed Marcello Giordani. Tanner’s Unknown Prince was strongly sung, his ringing tones especially effective in the famous “Nessun dorma.” A more than worthy substitute.
The rest of the cast maintained this high level. Veteran Kevin Langan was touching as the blind Timur. The comic trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong were most adroitly portrayed by Giovanni Guargliardo, Gianluca Bocchino and Joseph Hu respectively, and John Fortson was a stentorian Mandarin while Johnathan White sang an unusually strong voiced Emperor.
The chorus has an especially important role in this work, and the Opera Carolina Chorus, aided and abetted by children who were members of the Choir School of St. Peter’s Church, rose to the occasion, singing securely and acting with confidence.
Anita Stewart’s sets were a series of bare, movable platforms and stairs that were pushed into various configurations as the evening progressed — seemingly simple, but effective when coupled with a series of upstage projections and atmospheric lighting by Michael Baumgarten. Tom Diamond’s staging kept things moving, too, handling the large on-stage forces with assurance — though why Calàf fell so in love with the heavily veiled Turandot remains a mystery. The entire production was beautifully underpinned by the playing of the Charlotte Symphony, handling one of Puccini’s most complex and effective scores with ease under the assured baton of maestro James Meena.