Reviews

Opera Review: Turandot/ Opera Australia

Turandot/ Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

February 15, 2022

Something momentous happened on the opera stage this week.

It was the debut in a major role, in Sydney, on the stage of the Opera House, of soprano Anna-Louise Cole, who sang the role of Turandot in Opera Australia’s eponymous production.

It was a tremendously poised performance from this young artist, who impressed with her deep musical sensitivity, dramatic talent and mastery of her precociously powerful voice. Her voice has laser-like focus but loses none of its beauty either in solo or when it rises like a shaft of light above the ensemble, chorus and orchestra.

The performance also marked the arrival of the new conductor, Leonardo Sini, taking over from Renato Palumbo, the return as Liù, of Marianna Hong, taking over from Kara Son who moves to  the role of Desdemona and Ivan Gyngazov continuing in the role of Calaf as Yonghoon Lee, moves to his role as Otello.

Cole was to have made her debut in Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Brisbane for Opera Australia, now twice deferred. Brisbane’s loss was Sydney’s gain. Apart from a few small recitals, it is Sydney’s audiences who have now had first dibs at experiencing Cole. Like many opera tragics, I have a few productions of Turandot to add to my trophy cabinet along with their leading ladies who include Leona Mitchell and Jennifer Wilson, Nina Stemme in Munich, Lise Lindstrom at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and again in Sydney and Amber Wagner. Anna-Louise Cole is right up there with them and I have little doubt that her horizons right now stretch very far indeed.

Technically superb and maintaining her stamina to the end, Cole’s portrayal of the disdainful and misandrous princess began with vengeful shards of ice, flying through the air in angles of chromatic tension in the opening bars of In questa reggia. We glimpse the soft side as she turns to the tale of her ancestor Princess Lou-Ling before the implacable façade quickly returns, lest she be seen as weakening. This glimpse prepares us for a credible change of heart when Turandot is finally able to acknowledge her feelings for Prince Calaf, albeit at a high cost.

Ivan Gyngazov was vocally well matched with Cole, though dramatically somewhat underwhelming. He certainly had the vocal chops to perform the role, presenting a very moving account of Non piangere, Liù which presaged a superb Nessun dorma.

Marianna Wong as Liù is a favourite and has made this role her very own. Her Signore, ascolta! was sung with beauty of line and impressive control of the large leaps. She portrayed the role with innocence and devotion, making the ultimate self-sacrifice after a sorrowful Tu che di gel sei cinta.

The troupe may have had problems with rehearsing this transition in personnel as there were some issues with ensemble and pitch. However, Maestro Sini conducted with verve and the other principals, the chorus, children’s chorus, actors, dancers and orchestra were in magnificent form, noting, in many instances a generational change in this production, in particular, David Parkin taking on the role of Timur and newer voices over the years, singing the darkly comic commentary from the lost innocents, Pong, Pang and Ping (Virgilio Marino, Iain Henderson and Luke Gabbedy respectively).

Graeme Murphy’s 1990 production has maintained its impact and still thrills after 30 years, revived on this occasion by Shane Placentino. The constant and restless movement created by the silks beautifully complemented the sleepless Calaf in the opening scenes of Act 3, as did the choreography in creating a sense of darkness and claustrophobia experienced by the oppressed masses of the Popolo di Pechino.

Anna-Louise Cole is a charismatic presence on stage with a thrilling voice. Her star is one to watch. Catch it before it slips into another galaxy.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Opera Australia’s production of Turandot is performed in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House on selected dates until 14 March, 2022.

 

 

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