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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the London Coliseum


  Ph: Catherine Ashmore/ ENO

In David Hare's The Power of Yes at the National's  Lyttelton, Hare, who is played by an actor, is seen throughout asking questions and taking notes. The answers to these questions are provided by other members of the cast, appearing as bankers, politicians, journalists, etc. In Rupert Goold's controversial production of Puccini's Turandot, a character new to the opera and played by actor Scott Handy, also appears throughout, notebook in hand, but the questions he asks seem to be directed at the audience.
Questions such as: Am I a writer? Why am I here? Why is the opera set in a Chinese restaurant instead of old Peking? Why are the customers—who include four Presley look-alikes—such a motley collection of stereotypes?
But no answers came. Perhaps his fortune cookie was laced with LSD and what we're witnessing are his hallucinations. Or has he fallen asleep waiting for his food and dreamt it all?
The one thing that does emerge is that he is trying to take control over the action and, in the end, pays for his meddling with his life. All very perplexing. But baffled as I undoubtedly was by Goold's tantalizing concept, I was never bored. Not for an instant.
Miriam Beuther's vermilion-infused restaurant setting is quite an eyeful, and the fully equipped kitchen she conjures up in the third act, complete with suspended headless cadavers, is suitably grisly for a fairy-tale seeped in bloodshed, torture and cruelty.
Of all Puccini's operas, Turandot is the least easy to warm to, despite the famous Nessun Dorma, the great Riddle scene and a couple of melting arias for the slave-girl Liu. Its two main protagonists, the icy Turandot and Calaf (who risks his life trying to thaw her vengeful disdain), are hardly Mimi and Rudolfo. It takes a great dramatic soprano—one who can sing as well as act—to endear herself to audiences, especially as she is given no help from Puccini, who died before writing the climactic love duet that he hoped would turn his heroine from a block of ice (in which guise she momentarily appears in act one) to a woman who, for the first time in her life, discovers the redemptive power of love.
As Turandot, German soprano Kirsten Blanck has an appropriately steely quality to her singing, but not much range of expression and her diction is decidedly cloudy. As for Gwyn Hughes (Jones's Calaf), the voice is impressive and nicely burnished, but his acting is woefully inexpressive. More successful is Amanda Echalaz's heartfelt Liu. She, together with James Creswell's Timur, offer the evening's most rounded performances.
The ENO Orchestra under Edward Gardner's confident baton provide some glorious playing, tender on the rare occasions the music calls for tenderness, and lush and grandiose in the score's triumphal climaxes. The chorus, despite the weirdness of their costumes (by Katrina Lindsay), were pretty full-throated too.
Though I honestly didn't have a clue what this production was all about, I nevertheless had a pretty stimulating time trying to figure it out.

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