Goerke, Eyvazov light a fire in Met’s throwback “Turandot”

Thu Oct 10, 2019 at 11:45 am
Christine Goerke performs the title role in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

Among the grandest of grand old productions at the Metropolitan Opera is the company’s classic staging of Puccini’s Turandot. Its towering, golden sets represent the most opulent extreme in the lavish style of the late Franco Zeffirelli, the legendary opera director who died this summer.

Sadly, at 32 years old, this throwback staging has lost much of its allure. It was never exactly nuanced to begin with, and by now the sets are wobbling, the choreography looks sloppy, and the loopy antics of Ping, Pang, and Pong induce more cringes than laughter. The shiny, confetti-filled pageantry only makes the glare of the piece’s “old-fashioned” cultural tropes even harsher.

With all that said, Wednesday’s performance, the third of the season, was still an exciting one, thanks to two formidable leads. Soprano Christine Goerke and tenor Yusif Eyvazov were both in their best form, their voices complementing each other with blazing bright energy and making their interactions a series of thrilling vocal confrontations. The riddle scene in Act II crackled with life, as the cold fury of Goerke’s soprano was met by Eyvazov’s golden ring.

This is Goerke’s second run as Turandot at the Met, and it’s clear she feels comfortable in the role. There is a bracing directness in her powerful soprano, which, combined with biting diction, lent a fierceness to her vocal characterization. She made an imposing first impression with her fearsome delivery of “In questa reggia,” but was able to find lyricism in softer moments to provide some contrast to the princess’s fiery public image.

Formidable as her vocal performance was, Goerke’s considerable dramatic talents feel stifled in this role. A convincing Turandot requires enormous finesse in the first place: the character as written is fairly flat and her near-instantaneous switch from terrifying destroyer of suitors to pliant bride is hard to square dramatically, as well with contemporary mores. But this production adds the extra hurdle of choreographing the role so heavily that the soprano is left with little choice but to play her as caricature. It will likely take a new staging altogether to provide a more nuanced portrayal.

For his part, Eyvazov impressed with his clarion tenor as Calaf. His voice is somewhat limited in that there’s very little tone or body to speak of in the lower third of his range. Most crucial in this role, though, is the upper register, and here Eyvazov shines, with a flexible, beaming sound that thrills at the top without a hint of strain. “Nessun dorma,” the show-stopping Act III aria, offered a complete picture of his voice, exposing that bottom range but also letting him soar in his gorgeous, ringing high voice.

Eleonora Buratto showed a plush yet lively soprano in her sympathetic portrayal of Liù. Her expressive singing combined warm caramel color and precise dynamic control, particularly in Act III’s striking “Tu che di gel sei cinta,” where she channeled grief and defiance together in a beautifully shaped reading of the aria.

Ping, Pang, and Pong, the unfortunately named ministers of the imperial court, were not crisp enough to pull off the quick comedic dialogues of Act I, though their trio in Act II, pining for their respective provincial homes, was lovely. Alexey Lavrov brought a firm, woody baritone as Ping, Tony Stevenson showed off a flowing tenor as Pang, and company regular Eduardo Valdes offered a solid, if slightly tight, tenor as Pong. 

Company legend James Morris made a celebrity cameo as the elderly Timur. There are signs of age on his bass, no question, but the sound is still remarkably powerful and consistent. Carlo Bosi struck the perfect balance between aged weariness and regal authority as the Emperor, and Javier Arrey showed a robust, subtly spiced baritone as the Mandarin.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin continues to build up his operatic portfolio, apparently aiming to lead a broad repertoire personally in his role as music director. This is an encouraging goal, as that sort of consistent musical leadership is something the Met has missed since James Levine’s heyday.

Yet this Turandot, Nézet-Séguin’s first Puccini assignment, was a mixed result. The orchestra sounded radiant, and the massive chorus scenes were breathtaking, but, uncharacteristically for a conductor who usually mines the score for details, he didn’t make much of the smaller gestures that add character and create drama. The pacing, at least, was superb, albeit at the cost of rickety ensemble in some of the score’s more tense moments.

Turandot runs through April 25 at the Metropolitan Opera. A spring cast, starring Nina Stemme in the title role, with Marco Berti as Calàf and Hibla Gerzmava as Liù, opens on April 9, with Carlo Rizzi conducting. metopera.org

3 Responses to “Goerke, Eyvazov light a fire in Met’s throwback “Turandot””

  1. Posted Oct 23, 2019 at 2:22 pm by Charlotte Vorstermans

    I was not impressed by Evyazof. It looked like he was reading the prompter even if there wasn’t one! He can’t act so it was very hard to believe he was so enraptured by the princess! Although I enjoyed the performance, it felt lack lustre to me and to others in the theatre. The frst time I saw Turandot I was enchanted, this time not so much.

  2. Posted May 22, 2020 at 12:50 am by octopuppy

    Professional critics who have seen the canonical works a zillion times each, never seem to comprehend that those of us who are newly learning to love opera (or the theatre) wish nothing more than to see the operas (or plays) presented as their authors intended, with lush, appropriate sets and settings and costumes … Perhaps when we’re as jaded as you are; then we’ll wish to see these horrendous po-mo “reimaginings” where people sing and act on a minimalist rotating metal shard or in outer space or what-not …

  3. Posted Jun 01, 2020 at 10:51 pm by Lara

    I couldn’t agree more with octopuppy ! In fact, I’m only writing a reply because of its comment. Give me the grandeur of Zeffirelli, no matter how “aged”, than the modern crap produced by the degenerate minds of the theater today.

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