This production from May 2015 must have been one of the first of Riccardo Chailly’s tenure at La Scala. The stage director was Nikolaus Lehnhoff, well known for his Janá<em>č</em>ek productions at Glyndebourne; the excellent direction for TV by Patrizia Carmine includes effective shots from above the stage. This was the first time that Luciano Berio’s completion of the opera (of which more anon) had been performed in Milan.</p>
<p>The set and costumes (Raimund Bauer and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer) are a feast for the eye. There is an enormous studded wall with an entrance and a balcony; in the wall, towering over the balcony, is a circular space in which the princess (and, later, her father Altoum) first appears. The costumes include a fearsome black creation for Turandot, festooned with layers of material resembling seaweed, and striped pantaloons for the masks Ping, Pang and Pong. Then there is Duane Schuler’s lighting, which turns the set blood-red at appropriate moments.</p>
<p>The opera opens with the Mandarin, dressed as a ringmaster, announcing that the Prince of Persia, the latest of Turandot’s suitors, has failed the obligatory test and will be beheaded at moonrise. Calaf is swiftly reunited with his father Timur, dark glasses signifying the latter’s blindness. When Turandot confirms the execution, she does so with a curved staff, the symbol of her authority. In the next act, Calaf snatches it away on answering the riddles correctly, a telling moment. Light relief is provided by the three masks, seated at a table and drinking beer from the bottle.</p>
<p>On her first, silent appearance, Turandot is so plastered in red and white make-up that it’s hard to see why Calaf is bowled over. Never mind: Nina Stemme is quite wonderful once she starts to sing. Clutching her red staff, she delivers ‘In questa reggia’ with burnished tone, culminating in a gleaming top C when Calaf joins her in the threefold ‘Gli enigmi sono tre’. Aleksandrs Antonenko is a stolid Calaf, with a limited range of facial expressions, but he has the notes all right. Maria Agresta as Liù ends ‘Signore, ascolta!’ beautifully, followed by a lovely <i>pianissimo</i> from Chailly’s orchestra. Alexander Tsymbalyuk is touching in Timur’s lament for Liù, and the masks are well characterised. Carlo Bosi, with whitened face and long red beard, is an unusually vigorous-sounding emperor.</p>
<p>Now for the ending. The completion by Franco Alfano was brutally cut at the behest of Toscanini for the first, posthumous production in 1926; that shortened version, the one generally used, is widely regarded as an anti-climax. Berio’s completion, composed in 2001, takes the same reduced text. It cleverly makes use of Puccini’s tunes without sounding like a pastiche, but it loses impetus in a three-minute passage for orchestra alone. It would be interesting to see and hear Alfano’s original. A firm recommendation, though, for this eminently watchable offering from the theatre of the opera’s premiere.