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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

Florentine Opera's Thrilling 'Turandot'

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The Florentine Opera's stunning production of Puccini's final masterpiece, Turandot, was a crowd pleaser even for those unfamiliar with this idiosyncratic work. Some eyebrows were raised among the sold-out house on Friday night as a pajama-clad father read (silently) the Turandot story as a bedtime fairy tale for his little daughter to introduce certain scenes. It's a pretty bloody bedtime story—and this is not The Nutcracker.

However, this most magnificent of operas is too musically power-packed to be put off by some good-natured tomfoolery. Not surprisingly, there were a few traditionally unavoidable caveats in the vocally challenging score, which forces soloists to deal with raw, exposed high passages. As Turandot, the highly touted Lise Lindstrom produced a bold stentorian sound thrillingly confident in the upper registers, if only occasionally a bit harsh around the edges. Her performance was effortlessly flexible and vulnerable, making the crucial final duet more romantically convincing.

The critical tenor role presented Renzo Zulian with the formidable task of competing with renowned renditions of the world's most famous tenor aria, “Nessun dorma.” He proceeded cautiously in a starlit setting, producing a warm, compelling sound in the final act without his earlier tendency to force his voice beyond its range.

As the hapless Liu, soprano Rena Harms gave a lovely, ovation-inspiring performance. The trio of Ping, Pang and Pong—sung by Frank Kelly, Matthew Richardson and David Kravitz—was among the best I've heard. Also excellent was Peter Volpe as the grieving father. In spite of occasional stiffness in the chorus, the production was smoothly coordinated and often thrilling.