Soprano Gerzmava shines brightly in Met’s “Turandot”
Following Monday night’s Otello season-opener, Wednesday was business as usual at the Metropolitan Opera. A Puccini opera, a Zeffirelli staging, a pair of marquee singers, and the world’s best house orchestra and chorus make it hard to go too far wrong. The residual excitement of opening week meant the auditorium was fairly well packed for this season’s first performance of Turandot.
And yet, even with so many “sure bets” aligned, it’s still possible to be surprised. Christine Goerke got top billing for this run, but it was Hibla Gerzmava who made a lasting impression, pouring herself into the role of Liù. Her voice felt slightly wide in her early aria “Signore, ascolta,” but she sang accurately and sensitively. Her torture scene in Act III was the evening’s stand-out vocal highlight, sung with fierce determination, even bringing in the warmth of tone and focus that had been missing earlier. Gerzmava’s was the most fully developed portrayal in a dramatic sense, as well, engaged as she was in a passionate struggle between her personal desires and her sense of duty.
Not that Goerke didn’t hold her own taking on the title role. She was not at all lacking for power, and she phrased intelligently, filling the stage with her commanding presence. Yet there were some audible problems of intonation with her rendition of “In questa reggia,” and she never seemed totally invested in the role. While she reminded us at times of why she’s being lined up for major roles in the next several seasons, the character of the formidable Chinese princess feels unsuited to her talents. Goerke, for all her power and presence, excels at intricate and subtle vocal characterization and delves ably into complex characters; Turandot’s music is largely declamatory, and there’s little room—in this production, at any rate—for her to be much more than a glowering ice-queen.
Marcelo Álvarez had a similar night as the persistent Prince Calàf: not consistently inspired, but perfectly respectable. A fine dramatic actor with a brassy instrument (though uncharacteristically soft on this particular night), he sang a creditable “Nessun dorma,” even if the tone felt a little broad. His high notes were solid, though oddly lacking in thrill, which made it hard to get too excited as he scaled the majestic high B at the end of the aria. James Morris, meanwhile, gave a moving performance in his celebrity cameo as Timur, the Prince’s world-weary father.
The Met Orchestra, under the baton of Paolo Carignani, was appropriately lush, and navigated the score’s peaks and valleys with broad strides. There were odd moments of sour intonation among the strings, and while the ensemble never felt truly threatened, it never quite jelled either—keeping everything together felt like an active project. One hopes the musicians will be able to work together more comfortably the second time around.
Of the two Franco Zeffirelli stagings still in the Met’s repertory, this 1987 Turandot feels somewhat more lively, benefitting, no doubt, from not being pulled out nearly so often as his La Bohème. The gilded splendor of the imperial court admittedly evokes the Italian Baroque almost as much as medieval China, but succeeds in conveying the mythic scale of the piece.
Turandot runs through January 30 at the Metropolitan Opera. Lise Lindstrom steps into the title role on October 22, with Leah Crocetto as Liù. metopera.org