There has to be a certain fascination in seeing Puccini’s Turandot performed by an all-Chinese cast in Beijing. Chen Xinyi’s production gives an insight into the state of opera in China, on one of a pair of DVD releases from the China National Centre for the Performing Arts.
A massive set is framed by giant crouching stone lions, replaced by dragons in Act 2’s scarlet palace. It’s the sort of thing you’d be happy to encounter in the Verona Arena, with lots of dancers and acrobats and an enormous chorus. Up close, there are problems: an executioner’s knife that doesn’t look as if it could cut butter, and Calaf striking a gong that doesn’t budge an inch.
Daniel Oren conducts an exciting account, but the vocal performances are mixed. Liù, vibrato-laden and devoid of consonants, should probably be singing Turandot. During ‘Signore, ascolta’ you sense her treading on eggshells to rein in her voice. On the other hand, Turandot is sung by a tremulous lyric soprano who is severely stretched by ‘In questa reggia’. Worst of all is Dai Yuqiang’s Calaf, trying to channel Mario del Monaco in heroic tone but often singing woefully flat. Tian Haojiang’s Timur is decent, but this one is for curiosity value only.
In his production of Le nozze di Figaro, José Luis Castro ‘stoutly refuses to disavow the original intentions of author and composer’ (so the booklet tells us). In other words, it’s a mega-traditional staging, prettily costumed, where there is a nagging sense that the principals are going through the motions without always seeming to know exactly what they’re singing. ‘Look at the little devil run!’ exclaims Susanna when Cherubino leaps out of the Countess’s window…yet it’s so high she can barely reach up to close it, let alone see what’s going on outside!
There are good vocal performances here, especially from baritone Zhou Zhengzhong as the predatory Count Almaviva. Li Ao is a likeable Figaro, his sturdy baritone having an oaky warmth. Xu Lei’s Cherubino – if a little hyperactive – is well sung, as is Huang Ying’s Susanna. Yu Guanqun, a soprano who frequently performs in Italy, is strangely disengaged as the Countess, wearing a perturbed expression. Her soprano suffers a huge flutter and she seems to be making up some vocal lines in ‘Dove sono’. Conductor Lü Jia is efficient, no more, the low point being a plodding ‘Sull’aria’ that seems as if it will never end.