A fantasy Peking is transported to Bregenz Festival’s lakeside setting for Marco Arturo Marelli’s new production of Turandot. Terracotta Warriors, paper lanterns, Chinese dragons and a 72-metre curved Great Wall of China all contribute to a real sense of spectacle. The gruesome aspects of Gozzi’s tale aren’t neglected – Ping, Pang and Pong preserve and bottle heads of Turandot’s victims and the Prince of Persia’s body is dumped into the lake. A masked army of ‘people’s workers’ populate the stage, while a strange Petrushka-like clown wafts about for no discernible purpose.
Marelli’s big idea is that Calaf is Puccini, battling against composer’s block at his piano in a dumb show until inspiration strikes and the brutal opening chords sound. He and Turandot clearly recognise each other during her first appearance. During Liù’s torture scene, Calaf/Puccini is strapped to his bed, powerless to save her. Guanqun Yu’s schoolgirl Liù, sporting beret and pigtails, is the pick of the cast. She delivers a beautifully affecting ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’. Given that Puccini died after composing Liù’s death scene, unable to complete his opera, I wondered if the director was going to make something significant of this. Apparently not. A moving final scene follows, which is strange given that any sympathy for Calaf usually evaporates after Liù’s death.
Riccardo Massi sings attractively as Calaf, with a very creditable ‘Nessun dorma’, though sometimes he seems disengaged, as well he might as the composer observing his characters. Mlada Khudoley’s Turandot, sadly, is this performance’s greatest weakness. ‘In questa reggia’ initially sounds lightweight and fluttery, but grows in both in wildness and volume (the singers are all miked, of course, in this open-air setting). Vocally, her riddle scene is a trial, the final duet a wobble-fest. Despite this significant drawback, though, an enjoyable staging.