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Second Cast of WNO 'Turandot'

Sylvie Valayre (Turandot) and Franco Farina (Calaf) in Turandot, directed by Andrei Şerban, Washington National Opera, 2009 (photo by Karin Cooper)
Ticket sales have been reportedly quite healthy for the final production of Washington National Opera's season, Puccini's last (and best) opera, Turandot. For anyone concerned about the health of the company in precarious economic times, that is heartening news, and as assessed in my review of opening night, it is a worthy production that glories in the spectacular possibilities of this opera. A few details struck my eye the third time around, like the contorted red dragon on the side of the executioner's whetstone wagon in Act I and the details of the carved screens in the set echoed in the glowing lines of the stage floor. The Ping-Pang-Pong trio is jesterish in way that goes far over the top, even sitting down at the back of the stage at one point in the "see no evil, hear no evil" pose.

The casting may not have been spectacular exactly, a situation that found itself oddly reversed in the second cast, heard on Monday night at the penultimate performance. The weak link in the first cast was the Calaf of tenor Darío Volonté, in no way an adequate vocal consort for the photon torpedo of Maria Guleghina's Turandot. It would have been much better to have the second-cast tenor, Franco Farina, across from Guleghina -- they happened to overlap in only one performance, on May 27. While Farina may not be a great tenore di forza, he has almost always proven a consistently good one -- as in his last appearance in Washington, in I Vespri Siciliani. At the very least, here was a voice with heroic resonance that never flagged throughout this demanding score and had well-supported and soaring high notes, if occasionally strained to the point of bending out of tune. He also had definite ideas about phrasing, decisively idiosyncratic, as he led conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson by the nose through Nessun dorma in Act III, leading to more than a few awkward clashes with the orchestra.

Other Reviews:

Ronni J. Reich, "Turandot's" Second Cast: Power and its Outages (Washington Post, June 1)
Sylvie Valayre's Turandot, by contrast, was a disappointment after Guleghina, which is not altogether unexpected, after Valayre's last roles with the company, replacing Mirella Freni in the ill-conceived Trilogy mish-mash in 2005 and a second-cast Tosca in 2004. Either illness or having sung too may Abigailles left her voice rough, underpowered, and patchy on Monday night. Worse, she was not nearly as gripping a presence on the stage as Guleghina, who for all of her mannerisms has mastered the art of the icy glare and the contemptuous gesture. Valayre's Turandot seemed, at worst, just a little capricious. The Liù of Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska, the winner of the 2006 Operalia competition making her WNO debut in this role, did not have the same glowing tone of Sabina Cvilak in the first cast and some of the exposed high notes sagged flat. It was a generally good sound emanating from a well-acted performance, but there will hopefully be some improvement before she takes on this role at the Met next season (scheduled for January 2010). The voice is a plausible fit for Micaëla or Euridice, both of which she has sung at the Met to some acclaim, but based on one hearing, Liù may be a step too far.

The final performance of Turandot, already sold out, will be performed tomorrow night (June 4, 7:30 pm), with this cast and Plácido Domingo conducting.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see Mr. Farina is a Red Wings fan as well.

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes, isn't that a coincidence?