Credit: Keith Saunders. Amber Wagner as Turandot, Richard Anderson as Timur, Mariana Hong as Lił.
Australian director and choreographer Graeme Murphy, who debuted the production for Opera Australia in 1990, wrote in the Daily Review, "Ever since I first worked with the Australian Opera and directed Metamorphosis and Turandot, I always had the chorus moving. And they loved that because music and movement is part of their DNA."
The play takes its name from its central character, Princess Turandot (Amber Wagner), whose dazzling beauty belies her cruelty. She's vowed that no man shall marry her, unless able to solve three riddles. Anyone who tries, but fails, meets a gruesome beheading. And his chance of success is low, as the riddles are all but impossible.
Credit: Keith Saunders. Andeka Gorrotxategi as Caląf and ensemble.
Enter Prince Calaf (Andeka Gorrotxategi), so spellbound by Turandot, he's willing to take on the challenge. Complicating this plot is Lił (Mariana Hong), a slave girl, who's devoted her life to looking after Timur (Richard Anderson), Calaf's blind father and exiled King of Tartary. She's in love with Calaf.
From her opening aria, 'In questa reggia', American soprano Wagner demonstrates her jaw-dropping power and richness of tone well complemented by the gentle, more honeyed vocals of Spanish tenor Gorrotxategi. His sensitive interpretation of Turandot's smash hit aria 'Nessun Dorma', delivered among enigmatic billowing shapes, draws long applause from the audience.
Credit: Keith Saunders. Amber Wagner as Turandot, Andeka Gorrotxategi as Caląf and ensemble.
Meanwhile, Korean-Australian soprano Hong provides a tender, yet dynamic, interpretation of Lił a character she's performed many times. And Sydney-born bass Richard Anderson travels convincingly from fragility to determined strength as Timur.
Credit: Keith Saunders. Mariana Hong as Lił.
Adding to the surreal atmosphere are the haunting harmonies of the Opera Australia chorus, which also help create the dreamscape physically, through hypnotic, swirling movements supported by a 13-strong cast of dancers and the Children's Chorus of the Sydney Children's Choir. Then, for comic relief, there's Ping (Christopher Hillier), Pang (Virgilio Marino) and Pong (John Longmuir), a trio of courtiers whose impeccable timing gets loads of laughs.
Credit: Keith Saunders. Christopher Hillier as Ping, Virgilio Marino as Pang and John Longmuir as Pong.
Turandot is a dark, dramatic journey into desire, power and the disturbing discrepancy between appearance and reality. Murphy's production is nearly 30 years old, but it feels as though it might've been conjured up yesterday.