Lyric Opera of Chicago Gala Opening of Turandot

Chinese musicians greet guests (photo-L.Keer)

If the 52nd season of Lyric Opera of Chicago's opening night gala is any indication of what is ahead in the 2006-07 season, a spectacular treat awaits Chicago opera lovers. From the first moment when the formally dressed guests (including men in kilts, and several women in Chinese garb) were greeted by musicians as they approached the entry, until exiting the auditorium, and receiving a fortune cookie, we found the night magical, intense and powerfully emotional.

Guest entering on the red carpet (photo-L.Keer)

The first opera of the season, Turandot, was set in imaginary, opulent, Peking of long ago, and every effort was made to create the feeling of our being there. Preceding the opera, there was a reception in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foyer where Chinese-inspired delicacies of pot stickers, seaweed cones, salmon wrap, and wonton were served. The most beautiful mythical beast (Chinese dragon) in all of Chicago, usually housed at the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center, decorated the area.

Enjoying the preperformance reception

Turandot, Puccini's last opera, ended a glorious period of melodrama that blossomed in the late 19th century. This opera is exquisite, assimilating the influences of two centuries of European music, including: Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss and Schoenberg, and extending the great stage tradition of Verdi to an even greater level of dramatic expression. It is grand and beautiful with glorious arias, the use of vast numbers of performers and fantastic stage sets. Puccini never completed the opera. When he died of complications following surgery in November 1924, he left behind 36 pages of sketches for the end of Turandot, and the request that it be completed by Riccardo Zandonai. However, Puccini's son, Tonio objected, and Franco Alfano eventually completed the opera.

Calaf (Vladimir Galouzine) and Turandot (Andrea Gruber) (photo-Dan Rest)

The story of Turandot was inspired by the Persian collection of stories called One Thousand and One Days. In these stories, the character of 'Turondokht' is revealed as a cold Chinese princess but the general story resembles that of Persian poet Nizami's story about a Russian princess being pursued by the Sassanid King Behram. The opera tells the story of the formidable ice princess, Turandot, who set conditions for her suitors as follows: Answer three riddles asked by the princess correctly and marry her or fail to answer them and lose your head. Calaf, an unknown Tartar prince, is warned not to risk his life, but obsessed with Turandot, he ultimately answers her riddles correctly. However, he finds taking her for his own, is not so easy.

Arturo Toscanini conducted Turandot's first performance at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on April 25, 1926. In the middle of Act III, two measures after the words, 'Lui poesia!' the orchestra rested. Toscanini laid his baton down and said, 'Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died'. The curtain was lowered, slowly. Later performances did include Alfano's ending.

Will Turandot behead Calaf (Vladimir Galouzine) ? (photo-Dan Rest)

David Hockney is probably known first as a famous artist of sea scenes. He has been interested in opera since age 10 when he attended 'La boheme' with his father in Bradford, England. Following in the steps of Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Dali, who enhanced operas and ballets, David Hockney has worked most consistently for the stage. Having designed nine productions, including Stravinsky's 'The Rakes' Progress' and Mozart's, 'The Magic Flute', Hockney agreed to tackle the 'popular opera repertory' and work on Turandot. In 1992 he stayed in Chicago through the entire run of Lyric's Turandot production. The current production is the third since then. He was quoted by the Tribune's von Rhein at that time as saying, 'Even if you have never seen an opera before, you can come and see this and be quite thrilled', and 'The challenge is to do an opera from the popular repertory, to make it different and yet still make it a spectacle'.

Calaf wins Turandot at last (photo-Robert Kusel)

This production was an incomparable experience for me. I have never before felt the simultaneous impact on an emotional level of music and scenery as I did in Turandot. The person seated next to me observed, 'If possible, the staging made the music seem even bette." It wasn't just the look of the staging, but rather the total impact, that matched and increasing the intensity and beauty of the music. The colors were amazing. In the final scene, a bright red curtain filledthe stage and was contrasted by a sea of people on the stage dressed in blue with bright yellow in the center. It was riveting.

Turandot contains within it some of the most magnificent of arias, including 'Nessun dorma', which was greeted with thunderous applause. There is exotically beautiful orchestration, that uses Orientalism-parallel chords and five-note scales.

Front-Calaf (Vladimir Galouzine), Center-Turandot(Andrea Gruber) Top-Emperor (Rodell Rosel) (photo-Robert Kusel)

Andrea Gruber as the ice-princess offered a deep, strong, emotionally evocative performance. Vladimir Galouzine as Calaf projects romantic ardor. Patricia Racette was Liu, the loyal slave. Ping, Pang and Pong were played by Quinn Kelsey, David Cangelosi and Scott Ramsay, respectively. Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric's Artistic Director Emeritus, conducted this performance. The monitor showing the English translation from Italian was very clear. The audience's delight with the performance was shown by the standing ovation the performance received.

With 13 performances available, Chicagoans should make it a point to experience this amazing production. This is a perfect opera for a those who are unfamiliar with this art form.

Performances are: September 20, 24(ma), 27(ma), 30, Oct. 3; Jan 13, 17,20,23,26,29, Feb 1 (ma) Evening performances are at 7:30 and Matinees are at 2:00pm.
Calaf is Johan Botha, Liu is Serena Farnocchia and conductor is Sir Andrew Davis for Jan and Feb.

Contact: 312.332.2244 or

Turandot is co-owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. Opening Night Benefit performance was sponsored by Aon Corporation. Revival was made possible by The Port, Washlow, and Errant Families, Mr. And Mrs. John V. Crowe and the Abbott Fund and the AT&T Foundation Production.

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