This opera reminds me of Antony and Cleopatra.  The plot is simple, and in this case silly, but the show just keeps going.  On and on.  I took an ageing American from Oxford to see it at Stratford in a full house on a hot night.  Neither of us handled it well.  In Turandot there are phases of Wagnerian repetition, and the term Principessa gets seared in your memory to the point where you are ready to surrender.  And to do that part, some Wagnerian strength helps, but it usually does little for the love interest.

For those of us who are not of the cognoscenti, there are structural problems in Puccini’s big ones.  Madam Butterfly carries the same sense of ordained misery as Othello.  In Tosca, nothing could match the drama of Act II, and the last act is frankly silly.  And in La Bohème, I am ready to pack my bags at the first interval, because the best is done, and it’s all downhill from then on.

Turandot is above all a big show.  Italy in China, and three of the best-known hits of opera.  The big number of the principal (In questa reggia) is where Wagnerian strength is required – Clare-Louise at Oxford had a theory that this broke the voice of Callas.  (But that was just one point of difference between us.)  Liu has the sweeter song – it was a specialty of Tebaldi – that leads to Non piangere, Liu, which always features on highlights discs of Björling et al.  And everyone knows the challenge awaiting the tenor toward the end – especially since the extravaganza of the Three Tenors.

It is one of the few operas now that I prefer to see on the stage – because it has to be a big show.  I saw the AO do it perfectly in both Sydney and Melbourne about thirty years ago.  It was choreographed by Graeme Murphy, and that is how it should be like South Pacific with the volume right up, and all the bells and whistles.

And that’s what you get with the new release by Pappano with what its promoters and the press are pleased to call an ‘all-star cast’.  The two leading ladies are up for it, and the tenor is Jonas Kaufman, who is widely seen and heard as the best about currently on the scene.  What you get is a feast of sound and light that tested the Marantz – and the neighbours.  Toscanini, and those who followed him, would have been appalled, I think.

I saw and heard Kaufman do a so-so opera in concert at Melbourne a few years ago.  Kaufman turned up to play, as they say in footy, and I was not the only person in the audience to gasp on occasions.  Here his voice sounds fuller and more baritonal – and loud.  At times he reminded me of the good old days with Del Monaco and Corelli.  But as sportsmen say, he leaves nothing on the field.  Kaufman took one high C four times in the studio.  This is the Full Monty.

So, if you want a recording with the lot, this is one to get.  But, according to Gramaphone, which devoted a cover story to the production, the recording process took a number of days of six or seven hours’ singing, with Covid spacing, and a tight schedule.  Sondra Radvanovsky, who sounds like a team player, said she had to live like a nun, and she did not even get see the Trevi Fountain.

And you wonder when sound management and engineering, and cutting and splicing, and veneering, collapses into the lurking dragon of A1.  If Chatbot, or whatever it is, can whip up a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare in seconds, how long will it be before we get Di Stefano doing Amor te vieta

My Marantz has a soft spot for those old monos of the ‘50’s, where you can hear feet on the boards, and just the occasional cough in the audience.  Of late, I have been thrashing Furtwangler on Beethoven in the fifties, and for me nothing else comes close, even if some old guard classicists might get miffed.

Opera – Pappano – Kaufman – AO.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s