Review: From Athens to Tulsa Opera, Turandot endures; ends here today

By Glenda Rice Collins

Tulsa, Okla., USA — Bursting with passion, lust and torture, magnetic characters, and centered in an exotic, fairy-tale setting in Peking legendary times, Tulsa Opera’s 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee, April 29th presentation of Puccini’s Turandot at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center marks the final main stage production of the company’s impressive 70th Anniversary Season.

Cast as Turandot, in her Tulsa Opera debut, is soprano Alexandra Loutsion, a rising star widely known for her passionate performances and versatility.  Portraying Calaf, her confident and brave suitor, is American tenor, Jonathan Burton, previously seen by 2014 Tulsa Opera audiences as Don Jose in Bizet’s Carmen.

A Major Production

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Crowds gather for a 2008 production of Turandot at the Herodeon in Athens, Greece

I first saw Turandot at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, presented by the Greek National Opera in 2008.  Well-suited to the grand setting, with a huge cast and special effects, the Herodeon production at times utilized two conductors — one to preside over the brass positioned in a nearby passageway to provide distant sounds of heralding trumpets, and the other maestro to coordinate from the main orchestral setting. Most memorable!  

Another embellishment to the huge cast of lavishly-costumed characters at the 2008 Acropolis production, was the introduction of beautiful, bare-breasted women staged to distract and tempt Calaf from his perceived destiny with death, if he further sought to pursue the vengeful Turandot. Nothing succeeded in deterring him, then or now,  from his quest to thaw Turandot’s frozen heart.

Here and Now

“Some 192 people are involved in making this production possible here,” said Tulsa Opera general director and CEO Greg Weber during PAC audience-welcoming remarks opening night, Friday, noting that even some unexpected water problems at the PAC didn’t dampen the spirits of the performers, who managed to prevail with make-up requirements, and such.

Tulsa Opera performers include the Tulsa Opera Chorus and Tulsa Opera Orchestra under the baton of distinguished conductor James Lowe. 

A Bloody Reign of Terror in a Fairy-tale Setting

Sparks flew as swords were sharpened on stage, prepared for duty to eliminate love-struck and determined suitors who dared to court the icy but beautiful Princess Turandot, in  Act I of Friday night’s Tulsa Opera presentation of Puccini’s last opera..

Turandot’s ministers Ping, Pang and Pong, brilliantly portrayed by Wayne Tigges, Julius Ahn, and Joseph Hu, respectively,  introduced comic relief to the scene along with the sensitivity of compassion and thoughts of more desirable memories of peaceful times, further lamenting Turandot’s bloody reign in Act II

Turandot’s Dilemma

The adamant  Princess Turandot’s dilemma is to control or be controlled — no room for love for any man who might limit her power for revenge for evil deeds done by others to her ancestors in the past.

For her insistent suitor Calaf, and others, the challenge is to answer her three riddles correctly or face death for daring to seek her love.

Leading Roles

As Turandot, Loutsion commands strong stage presence with the reserved, aloof qualities her character demands as a powerful and contemptuous princess. There is a sense of consistency in the vocal qualities of both Loutsion and Burton, who is quoted by Caroline Johnson in the Tulsa PAC Intermission magazine feature, Turandot Tenor on a Calaf Roll: “I’m pleased more by consistency than freshness (in performances)…because it allows me to be confident that I’m giving an audience something that works, more than taking chances to amuse myself.”

With the role of Calaf comes the challenge of “freshness” in the beloved and profoundly-moving, famed and familiar masterpiece aria  “Nessun dorma,” — undoubtedly to be compared to the noted encores of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras over time. Opera aficionados may well desire some degree of calculated risk-taking coupled with the heart and soul emotion of the moment that produces the chills and thrills only live performing arts can provide — the mark of exceptional mastery.  Bravo, none-the-less, for excellence achieved!

Jessica Rose Cambio and Hidenori Inoue excelled in the roles of Liu, a slave girl, and Timur, a vanquished king, respectively, in Tulsa Opera debuts.

With glorious music that speaks volumes about  complex human emotions, power, love and the essence of humanity, Turandot remains relevant to cultural themes, from Athens, Greece to Tulsa, Oklahoma and beyond.

Exemplary of the divisions in societies and the severe limitations of frozen mindsets, as we experience globally even today, the black and white mantra often continues as in Turandot’s challenge, as imposed by her own tunnel vision — to control or be controlled.

The Wisdom Within

In A Message from Tulsa Opera Leadership (Greg Weber and Tobias Picker, artistic director), an insert in Friday night’s program, credit is given to Puccini’s “…ornate, chimerical way (of presenting) issues that we still grapple with today:  fears about women in positions of power, the issue of women as vengeful and emotionless (?), and one’s secret anxiety that to submit to a relationship is to lose one’s autonomy and sense of purpose…Turandot avenges past cruelty with the only method she knew to succeed  — return cruelty to the offender…

“Empathy is in short supply today… For us, opera  — music –has the power to remove barriers and make connections which empowers our humanity…Without art, humanity is lost, kindness is abandoned, love becomes non-existent, society fails itself…Puccini spent the end of his life attempting to build a foundation for describing humanity verbally in Turandot...his music never fails to bring out all that is great in each of us.”

Up Next:  Tulsa Youth Opera presents

PINOCCHIO

Saturday | June 16, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.   

Sunday | June 17, 2018 | 2:30 p.m.

A fresh retelling of the classical Carlo Collodi story about a wooden puppet who experiences beautiful life adventures that teach him the value of honesty and integrity. Told through 20 characters in short scenes that children of all ages can follow easily.

For additional details, 2018 – 2019 season updates and tickets, visit tulsaopera.com.

Credits:  Banner photo and image insert by Glenda Rice Collins, 2008.  All rights reserved.

# # # # #glendaricecollins.com 4-29-18

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