Sunday, January 28, 2007


Stevie and I took a trip to the Lyric Opera on Friday to see Turandot. It was part of my Christmas gift to her but, of course, kind of a present for myself as well. I wish we got there more often. I'm a fully committed fan of the opera whenever I'm there even if I rarely listen to it outside of an actual performance. Maybe it's a situational fandom--I think I can name most of the Ring Cycle but I don't remember what order they fall in--but I'm as happy at the Lyric as I am at the Music Box (our revival theater) or the Vic (our favorite concert venue). In another century it might have been more central to my cultural life. As is, I'm glad for every chance I get to experience it. We had season tickets one year in the second or third-worst seats in the house. It was a nice education but since then we've been paying for good tickets once or twice a year instead of terrible seats all year round.

Friday we saw Turandot, Puccini's final opera. He left it unfinished shortly before smoking himself to death. Conductin it for the first time, his friend Arturo Toscanini famously stopped the production at the last note Puccini wrote. This was my first time seeing it and I can't say I loved it the way I love Tosca or Madama Butterfuly. The ending obviously suffers--I can't help but think that Turandot herself would have more than one big moment--but beyond that I found myself not liking the lead characters in the least. It's a fairy tale piece inspired by a story from the 1001 Nights and it doesn't allow for the psychological complexity I like so much in his other works. There's one great Puccini heroine, but she's off in the margins. Still, the music is, of course, beyond inspired, so why quibble?

It might also have been the production we saw, which sported wonderful, almost Disney-like sets by David Hockney but variable performances. I liked the singer who played Turandot and loved the singer who played Liu and while I appreciated the voice of the South African tenor who played Cafalo, his acting was comically awful. The crowd felt it, too. I hadn't seen such a lukewarm response since we saw Regina a not-so-smooth adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes by Marc Blitzstein (a.k.a. that guy from Cradle Will Rock. I don't have the critical terminology to explain why it fell short, but you can feel opera when it gets to that place. This mostly didn't.

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