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PUCCINI Turandot (completed by Berio) at Salzburg

Gabriele Schnaut (Turandot), Johan Botha (Calaf), Christina Gaillardo-Domas (Liù), Paata Burchuladze (Timur), Robert Tear (Altoum), Vienna Philharmonic, Mozarteum Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Tölz Boys Choir, Valery Gergiev (conductor), David Pountney (director), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Johan Engels (sets), Brian Large (video director)

Salzburg Grosse Festspielhaus, August 2002
TDK DVD-OPTURSF [4:3 125 mins]


PUCCINI Turandot (completed by Alfano) at Beijing

Turandot at the Forbidden City of Beijing
Mehta, Casolla, Larin, Frittoli,
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (1998)
with extras including The Making of Turandot at the original site

RCA 74321 60917 2 [16:9]

The Salzburg version has at least two claims upon attention. From the musical point of view, it is a first UK opportunity to see in context the late, lamented Luciano Berio's 2001 version of the ending, which looks set to supercede Alfano's. And the production, another spectacular from the Salzburg Festival, filmed at the Grosses Festpielhaus (the one carved out of a cliff, which I remember, when Furtwangler conducted Zauberflote, as the Rocky Riding School, I think it was then called).

David Pountney's concept, based upon a world gone mad with soulless robot-like administration and elimination of human values, definitely profits from the grandiose possibilities and budget at Salzburg. The video pictures are breath-taking and never can the Three Riddles scene have made a more powerful effect, though I am not entirely sure that Gabriela Schnaut's singing eclipses memories of the great Eva Turner, with whose Turandot we grew up. But she and her Calaf, Johan Botha, are larger than life characters, in every respect, and dispense generous tone, if not always greatest subtlety of musical line. There are captivating special effects, not least the immense height of Turandot's gown until she comes down to earth and love at the end.

David Pountney is as inventive as ever, relishing the huge canvas he is offered at Salzburg. The sound is good and this is certainly one for the collection, though for an equally original Turandot we look back with affection to Christopher Alden's uncompromising, and relatively economical, updated Welsh National Opera production as particularly thought provoking and memorable.

The Mehta/Yimou Beijing outdoor production, developed from the Florence Maggio Musicale, with the Beijing Dance Academy participating, takes you to timeless ancient Peking, filmed outdoors in one of the palaces. With traditional flags, armour and uniforms, statues of dragons and other legendary monsters, gorgeous costumes and spectacular processions, it is a really exotic eyeful. By the end, these excesses begin to pall, and the conventional Alfano completion felt perfunctory. I thought Giovanna Casella not nearly formidable enough as the Ice Princess, nor was she well directed to maximise the impact of her crucial scenes, but Sergei Larin looked and sounded well as Calaf and his characterisation was altogether more convincing. Barbara Frittoli is duly affecting as Liu, though she seems to take an unconscionable time singing her heart out before killing herself. Timur's make up could not stand close up viewing. The setting in the Forbidden Palace is truly breathtaking, as are the views of historic China. The orchestra is rather backwardly recorded, but for Turandot collectors this too is one not to miss. The booklet is informative and better than those for so many opera DVDs.

Turandot is an opera which, with its slow pacing and repetition of material, demands to be seen as well as heard; both DVD versions are well worth acquiring, and CD versions can no longer compete.

© Peter Grahame Woolf