Robert Wilson’s take on Turandot is interesting. It’s symbolic, even ritualistic and it’s perhaps best seen as a performance of a performance. It’s certainly not in any way naturalistic. Throughout the characters are “abstracted” by colour scheme in costume and make up and they move in highly stylized patterns. This is especially apparent in Act 3 where when Liù dies nothing happens. She just stands in a pose. She and Timur then walk back and forth across the stage a few times before slowly processing into the wings. It’s the same with the final scene with Calaf and Turandot. They never even touch each other which makes Calaf’s rather lurid description of what he’s going to do to Turandot seem even rapier than usual. The words and the music (the IMHO overblown Alfano completion) seem at odds but maybe make sense in a ritualistic way. The approach does make for some very striking stage pictures though.
That said, the use of Ping, Pang and Pong seems to be at odds with this hieratic approach. They clown around a lot. It’s stock gesture straight out of the commedia which is every opera director’s go to when they don’t know what else to do. On video, the close ups make this more obtrusive than it looked in the theatre. Worth noting that in the version of this production recorded at the Teatro Real in 2018 the three Ps are dressed in “mandarin” costume rather than the grey suits that were used in Toronto. This has two effects. One is to make them seem more part of the main action and less of a chorus commentating on the rather weird story. The other is to make the whole thing seem more (offensively) “Chinese”. The added degree of abstraction in the Toronto run at least made the piece seem less “about” any particular time or place.
The performances are generally pretty good. Gregory Kunde is the standout as Calaf. He has a voice that is both powerful and easy on the ear. Irene Theorin, in the title role is a bit of a mixed bag. She sounds very good in Act 3 but I found her a bit strident earlier on. Not that that’s so unusual in this role. Yolanda Auyanet is a sweet toned and sympathetic Liù and Andrea Mastroni is a solid Timur. Joan Martin-Royo, Vicenç Esteve and Juan Antonio Sanabria are quite effective clowns and vocally entirely fine. Nicola Luisotti conducts and goes for the big, red blooded Puccini sound which the orchestra deliver.
Andy Sommers directed for video. I think it’s a good effort. Despite the darkness of many scenes he manages to convey the full stage picture effectively which is just essential here. On Blu-ray he’s backed up by a very good picture and perfectly acceptable stereo and surround (DTS-HD-MA) sound. There are no extras on the disk while the booklet has a synopsis and a useful essay by Joan Matabosch. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
This is an interesting approach to Turandot and very Robert Wilson. I’m not sure though that it quite comes off but then I’m still looking for a Turandot that does.