Sunday, 8 November 2009


19/10/09, ENO 2 hrs 50 mins.

Directed by Rupert Goold, currently enjoying a succes d'estime with Enron (qv). Which meant it was a huge disappointment. The production was risible though the music was fine (indeed, overwhelming at times: we've never heard it before).

Set for some reason in a Chinese restaurant, with the chorus playing a motley clientele who looked like escapees from the Village People: nuns, a clown, Elvis impersonators, people in dinner jackets, a ballroom dancer, a lady in twinset and pearls, golfers, a pair of twins... Why? No indication.

The waitresses were whip-cracking viragos in slinky black Chinese dresses (dancers, who later dressed up as a troupe of Lady Gaga look-alikes in pink wigs, and as pigs with butchers' aprons and meat cleavers); Ping, Pang and Pong were kitchen staff.

The only scene where the set-up made sense was in the second act, where the three of them sing of their unhappiness at the state of affairs and dream of rural retreats: they appeared as kitchen staff taking the rubbish down a fire escape, while behind them a neon sign in reverse read "Imperial Palace", clearly the name of the restraurant. (Second time this week a designer has used that gag: cf Speaking with Tongues.)

The other principals sat uneasily in all this. Gwyn Hughes Jones as Calaf in black frock coat and yellow tie stood and declaimed, rather than acted; we were told he was suffering from a throat infection and he squeaked a little now and then but it didn't detract from his singing generally, and in particular from Nessun Dorma. Kirsten Blanck was a sturdy, four-square sort of Turandot: you got the message that she was a tough and uncompromising piece of work, but her allure remained a mystery, though it was so great apparently she could seduce Calaf with one mute appearance even at the very moment he is being reunited with his long-lost dad. (That first mute appearance was as an ice sculpture, wheeled through the kitchen doors, and preceded by the appearance of a little girl in a white fairy's costume, who appeared two or three other times as well. Again, no indication why.)

The action was observed by another mute figure, a writer (played by Scott Handy, son of Charles Handy, and alumnus of St Catharine's College, Cambridge), who scribbled notes and got his bloody come-uppance from Turandot in the final scene when she stabbled him bloodily with a samurai sword in the restaurant kitchen.

The slave-girl Liu has the most beautiful music; Turandot's sounded unsingable (and was in any case windily delivered). And the choruses are stupendous. Great tunes; wonderful dynamic effects, several achieved off-stage.

But why all the distracting directorial interventions? Goold seemed to have no faith in the music or the material. Though in his defence You Tube throws up a few more weird and wonderful productions of what is clearly a "problem" opera.

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