Turandot, Puccinis last opera and one that can be said to be the last great opera ever composed, was left unfinished at the composers death in 1924. Although composition was suddenly interrupted before what Puccini had planned to be his greatest love duet, he displays flawless mastery as he establishes and then gradually winds up dramatic tension throughout the work, as the fairytale-like plot moves through dark cruelty, macabre humour and tragedy to the prospect of happy resolution.
The set by Luciano Liccieri for this production at the Teatro dellOpera in Rome dates back to a production at the Arena in Verona in 1983; it was then adapted for inside productions, and has rightly enjoyed considerable popularity over the intervening decades. In keeping with the times and the savage budget-slashing imposed on opera houses in Italy at the moment, the set is unchanging throughout the evening, but is most handsome, perfectly conjuring up the required exoticism, with flights of stairs, elaborate columns, fantastical gates and dragon relief. The production is by Giuliano Montaldo, who, drawing on his experience as producer of the very successful Marco Polo epic of the early 1980s for Italian television, creates a sumptuous oriental court, with vast crowds (the chorus must have been about 80-strong) and no apparent economising on other extras.
The conductor is Alain Lombard, under whose experienced baton the orchestra excels in the complex and powerful instrumentation. Particularly good was the brass. The chorus, too, under Andrea Giorgi, was on top form.
The standard of the principals is very high, if not quite sublime, The protagonist herself, Giovanna Casolla, has many of the qualities of an ideal Turandot, not least great volume; she could be heard thrillingly over the top of the enormous chorus and all that brass, but somehow just misses conveying the essential glacial iciness of the character, being more convincing when the thaw sets in. Giuseppe Giacomini has the right heroic delivery for the part of Calaf, and, even if Nessun dorma was not quite as ringing as it can be, it was very impressive. Anna Laura Longo as Li was sweet without being cloying; she has a lovely, affecting voice, with an exquisite line in fil di voce. Timur was sung and acted excellently by Michail Ryssov, and Damiano Salerno, Mario Bolognesi and Aldo Orsolini were perfectly adequate as the heartless courtiers, Ping, Pong and Pang.
Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome. Tel. 06481601, www.opera.roma.it. 28 April 2005. Further performances 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 May 2005 www.john-fort.com