Turandot still hits the right emotional buttons

REVIEW / OPERA

TURANDOT

Singapore Lyric Opera, Joshua Kangming Tan, conductor, Lo King-man, director

Esplanade Theatre/Last Saturday

The masterstroke in Lo King-man's production is its directness.

Neither minimalist nor gimmicky, it captures the very essence of Puccini's final opera, set in China and about Prince Calaf, who has to answer three riddles to marry Princess Turandot.

Under Joshua Kangming Tan, the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) Orchestra performed near-miracles in the pit.

  • BOOK IT / PUCCINI'S TURANDOT

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $50 to $150 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

With Tan Ju Meng's uncluttered set design, magical lighting from Adrian Tan and some wonderful costumes from Mandy Tam, the notion of a mythical Chinese past was strongly conveyed.

When the Emperor appeared on stage, effectively played as an old, withered and deeply human individual by Leslie Tay, a vast tribal head descended as a backdrop, underlining the essentially pagan atmosphere of the opera.

This also solved the problem of making credible Princess Turandot's seemingly inhuman cruelty.

In the title role, a steely-voiced Jee-hye Han certainly exuded icy disdain for humanity, but her diction was so obscure that, were it not for the well-synchronised surtitles, the audience would have had no idea what she was singing about.

Perfect diction, perfect pitching, perfect vocal control and a voice to die for were provided in good measure by Li Yang who as Liu, the loyal-to-death slave girl spurned in love, stole the hearts of the audience, not least with a ravishing account of her first act aria, Signore, Ascolta.

Her death scene in the final act was, in every respect, the true climax of the production.

William Lim cut a profoundly tragic figure as the blind, dethroned King Timur, desperately hoping she was just asleep.

So captivating was Li's portrayal of Liu that one wondered why the young Calaf was so eager to abandon her for the ghastly Turandot.

His is a devilishly difficult role to make real, but Lee Jae Wook was very impressive even if he was never going to shake off the ghosts of all those tenors who have made the great act three aria, Nessun Dorma, their own.

Luckily, Joshua Kangming Tan's musical instincts drove the aria on so fervently that it still touched the right emotional buttons.

Vocally uneven but hugely entertaining with their on-stage chemistry, Martin Ng, Raymond Lee and Peter Ong as the androgynous government ministers Ping, Pang and Pong, cut just the right comic note to balance the supercharged emotions elsewhere.

The SLO Chorus was in superlative collective voice. Occasionally wooden in its on-stage movements, it was never anything less than compelling in its singing both on and off stage.

And if the white-clad children's chorus was a little fidgety at times, it should have got the nerves out of its system by tonight's performance.

And if not, it only adds to the charm of its on-stage presence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Turandot still hits the right emotional buttons'. Print Edition | Subscribe