The soprano playing the title role of “Turandot” doesn’t open her mouth until about an hour into Puccini’s last opera. But once she begins to sing, within minutes she’s soaring up to high-C. “What a way to start,” said Othalie Graham, who’s starring in the role of the ruthless Chinese princess for Opera Carolina. “It’s a long daunting wait all through Act I and that aria is treacherous,” she added, with a laugh.

Opera Carolina’s production of “Turandot” opens Saturday for three performances through Feb. 1 at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte. The opera tells the exotic tale of a beautiful princess who poses three questions to every man who seeks her hand in marriage. Those who fail to answer the questions correctly find themselves deprived of their heads.

The rather bloody plot, perhaps ironically, is supported by a lushly lyrical score, with some of the most famous melodies in opera, including the iconic tenor aria “Nessun Dorma.” The production features tenor Carl Tanner as Calaf. The role of Turandot, meanwhile, requires a rare voice: a dramatic soprano with enough power to cut through Puccini’s rich orchestration.

Graham, a Canadian-American soprano who starred in Opera Carolina’s well-received “Aida” last season, has made Turandot a signature role, having sung it in 11 productions. “She’s such a great girl and it really started my career,” Graham said. “I was really fortunate to fall into this role.” One of her chief tasks is to make the Chinese princess sympathetic. “Beheadings don’t endear you to a character,” she quipped. “I try to make sure the audience sees her vulnerable side. I really think there’s a vulnerable side to her. I try to make her as beautiful and feminine as possible.”

Turandot’s motivations are revealed in her challenging entrance aria, “In Questa Reggia,” in which she tells the tale of an ancestor brutalized by men. “She’s grown up with this horrible story about her ancestor,” Graham said. “When you tell someone at a young age these horror stories, it obviously makes that person biased.” For Graham, the opera is really about a woman who overcomes her fear and hatred and learns to love. “It’s really a common theme — being afraid of love but finally letting love into your life,” said Graham, who grew up near Toronto but now makes her home in Philadelphia. “I think it’s a great story.”

Another irony: The title character’s music is modest in length, though it packs a wallop. “It’s only about about 22 minutes of music,” Graham said. “It really is a shorter role but one with a tremendous impact.” The cast also includes Russian-American soprano Dina Kuznetsova as Liu and bass Kevin Langan as Timur. Puccini’s final opera also features his grandest music for chorus. “In doing this as many times as I’ve done, I find the chorus here is one of the best I’ve heard,” Graham said. “The singers are so incredibly talented and really dedicated.”

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