DVD Review: "Turandot"

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Chinese film director Chen Kaige, best known for his 1993 “Farewell My Concubine,” helmed his first opera production with this lavish interpretation of the Puccini warhorse, which opened the 2008 Festival del Mediterrani in Valencia, Spain.

Tiziano Mancini’s video record of the production brilliantly captures the best of Kaige’s vision for “Turandot” – a wonderfully elaborate Chinese pavilion set and a large chorus that is shrewdly assembled to enhance the illusion of the masses watching the bizarre melodrama unfold.

This production wisely jettisons the faux-Orientalism and cutesy touches that often make “Turandot” seem tiresome. This is particularly effective in the wise decision to play down the traditional minstrely in the second act plotting of the wily trio Ping, Pang and Pong – “Ho una casa nell'Honan” is conceived with a startling strain of raw melancholy that gives genuine emotion to the threesome’s situation.

However, the camera also magnifies the odd central flaw of the production: indifferent acting by Marco Berti as Calaf (his “Nessun dorma” has volume but no soul) and Maria Guleghina’s Turandot (who seems to embody apathy rather than evil in her various sneers and posturing). Separately, they have little charisma, and their scenes together lack any true spark.

But the real oxygen here is Alexia Voulgaridou’s Liu – her “Tu che di gel sei cinta” is a stunning testament to the power of love to conquer the worst that human cruelty can put forth.

For the most part, Kaige and conductor Zubin Mehta successfully manage to camouflage the problems with the central casting through the production’s visual sweep and stirring orchestration, One can easily forgive the drawbacks and get lost (yet again) in the spell that “Turandot” continues to put forth.

2009, 156 minutes, Not rated
Directed by Chen Kaige
Starring Marco Berti, Maria Guleghina and Alexia Voulgaridou
Relesaed by Unitel Classica

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