Zubin Mehta seems to be making a habit of teaming up with Chinese film directors to stage Turandot. This time the director is Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and he chose Liu King and Chen Tong Xun to do the sets and costumes. The production in question took place at Valencia’s I Festival del Mediterrani in 2008. It’s actually in an opera house rather than on location in the Forbidden City but this production ends up having a rather similar look and feel to Zhang Yimou’s earlier one.
It’s all very grand with a big stage and a large chorus. The sets resemble a traditional Chinese opera house, though bigger, and the costumes are authentically Chinese. Kaige is very careful about blocking and gesture but it’s all within the framework of a fairly straightforward presentation of the narrative. The overall effect is of a very grand traditional production with a bit more attention to detail.
Performances are generally pretty good. Mario Berti is a solid Calaf. He acts well and he has a fine ringing tenor sound. Maybe he lacks the ultimate in oomph in the big climaxes but he’s very close. Alexander Tsymbalyuk is a robust and pleasing Timur and does an excellent acting job. Liu is sung by Alexia Voulgaridou and she makes the most of the part which probably has the most rewarding music. Maria Ghuleghina as Turandot is more problematic. She’s powerful and has all the notes but I don’t find her voice attractive to listen to. It’s got a hard, steely quality that sets me rather on edge. Add to that that she really is not a very good actor. She’s stilted and wooden and her facial gestures are caricature like. It probably wouldn’t be so bad in the theatre but DVD definitely plays up her weaknesses. Zubin Mehta’s reading of the score is traditionally full blooded and he gets good backing from the Valencia orchestra and chorus.
Video direction is by Tiziano Mancini. It’s OK. He tries to capture the scale of the big scenes but the picture quality, standard non HD DVD, and the fairly dark lighting don’t do him any favours and he’s probably right to focus mostly on the main characters and their interactions. The LPCM stereo sound is full, spacious and solid and much better than the DTS surround track which sounds compressed. There is a 36 minute “Making of” extra feature which is worth a look but doesn’t really justify its length. Subtitle options are Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. The booklet contains a short, not especially interesting , essay on the work and the production.