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L.A. Opera’s magnificent “Turandot” reviewed

Giacomo Puccini’s lush and exotic Turandot is widely considered to be one of the grandest of grand operas. An opera in three acts, it was composed by Puccini to a libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. Puccini’s opera was unfinished at the time of his death in 1924; it premiered in 1926 after the music was posthumously completed by Franco Alfano.

Despite its outdated depiction of a fanciful ancient Chinese empire, this magnificent work still has the power to stir your soul.

Photo by Cory Weaver.

L.A. Opera’s 2024 current production of Puccini’s Turandot is an elaborately-staged work featuring superlative lead singers, a large supporting cast and dazzling, superb sets designed by fine artist David Hockney. Seeking to avoid the kitschy “Chinoiserie” of previous stagings, Hockney added, “harsh edges, strong diagonals, mad perspectives.” (Quote is from Hockney’s autobiography, referenced in a recent LA Times article.) The San Francisco Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago commissioned Hockney’s Turandot designs 34 years ago. According to the LA Times, L.A. Opera has spent $80,000 to rent the production assets — the props, Hockney’s sets and costumes by Ian Falconer.

This production, with one performance remaining on Saturday June 8, 2024, proved to be a mesmerizing journey into the imagined mystery of Peking, blending grandeur, emotion, and spectacle in equal measure. From the moment the curtain rose, the audience was transported into this vivid world of imperial intrigue, love, and sacrifice.

One of the highlights of this production was, naturally, the world-class cast’s stellar performance. The role of Princess Turandot demands both vocal prowess and dramatic intensity. Soprano Angela Meade magnificently met expectations. Her portrayal of the icy princess was both commanding and vulnerable, capturing the character’s inner turmoil with grace and power.

Opposite her, Russell Thomas in the role of the brave Prince Calaf, delivered a solid if fragile performance. While his tenor voice imbued every aria with passion and longing, his vocal strength felt lacking.

The supporting cast was equally impressive, with standout performances from Guanqun Yu in the role of Liù and Morris Robinson as Timur. Yu as Liù, in particular, was superb, bringing vulnerability and profound emotion to her tragic and sympathetic role.

Of course, Turandot is the central character, but it’s the sweet presence and plaintive and haunting arias of Liù that are the stealthy highlights of this bombastic (in the best possible sense) opera. Liù’s pure love, and her selfless sacrifice form a poignant foil to the other leads’ unlikely but inevitable romance.

As the sinister yet mildly comic trio Ping, Pang and Pong, the three singers Ryan Wolfe, Terrence Chin-Loy and Julius Ahn were delicious in conveying their intrigue.

Of course, no production of Turandot would be complete without its iconic chorus, and L.A. Opera’s ensemble certainly did not disappoint. Whether portraying the jubilant crowds celebrating the prince’s victory or the fearful subjects of Princess Turandot’s ruthless rule, the chorus imbued the stage with energy and vitality.

So beautifully staged and directed (by Garnett Bruce), we see strategic ripples of movement amongst the crowd, creating an extraordinary dynamism against those dramatic scenic designs, with their steep ramps and soaring heights.

Puccini’s richly themed work presents a complex moral landscape, featuring a nuanced – though dated – portrayal of love, power, and redemption.

L.A. Opera’s 2024 staging of Turandot was a triumph on every level. From its stunning visuals to its powerhouse performances, it captured the grandeur and emotional depth of Puccini’s masterwork with style and panache. For both opera aficionadi and newcomers, this production was an experience not to be missed.

Photo by Cory Weaver.

Turandot is a masterpiece that contains imagined, outdated and inaccurate representations of Asian culture. LA Opera worked in consultation with the Asian Opera Alliance, who have offered input on how to present the work with greater consciousness, care and context, while maintaining fidelity to the original opera and this production.  

One performance remains! Saturday June 8, 2024 at 7.30PM.

Tickets can be purchased online at LAOpera.org, by phone at 213.972.8001, or in person at the LA Opera box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012). For disability access, call 213.972.0777 or email LAOpera@LAOpera.org.

L.A. Opera program fact sheet:

Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni
World premiere: April 25, 1926, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan

The “standard” ending by Franco Alfano will be used.

Cast:   
Turandot: Angela Meade
Calaf: Russell Thomas
Liu: Guanqun Yu
Timur: Morris Robinson
Ping: Ryan Wolfe †
Pang: Terrence Chin-Loy *
Pong: Julius Ahn
A Mandarin: Alan Williams †
Emperor Altoum: Ashley Faatoalia

Creative Team:
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Garnett Bruce *
Scenic Design: David Hockney
Costume Design: Ian Falconer
Original Lighting Designer: Thomas J. Munn
Revival Lighting Designer: Gary Marder *
Chorus Director: Jeremy Frank
Children’s Chorus Director: Fernanda Malvar-Ruiz
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Fight and Intimacy Director: Andrew Kenneth Moss

* LA Opera debut  
† Member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program

Performance dates and times:  
May 18, 2024, at 7:30pm  
May 26, 2024, at 2pm 
May 30, 2024, at 7:30pm 
June 2, 2024, at 2pm 
June 5, 2024, at 7:30pm 
June 8, 2024, at 7:30pm 

Performed in Italian with English supertitles   

Estimated running time: two hours and 55 minutes, including two intermissions 

Venue: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, 90012)   
All programs, artists and dates are subject to change.   

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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