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In Review > North America


Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Turandot lg 318
Amber Wagner, Turandot at Lyric Opera of Chicago
© Todd Rosenberg Photography

TURANDOT REENTERED Lyric Opera’s repertory on December 5, presented in a new-to-Chicago production. Despite some impressive musical values, the show never quite burst into theatrical flame as one expects a Turandot to do.

For Windy City audiences, Puccini’s final operahas long meant a wallow in the explosive color and pop-art imagery of David Hockney’s dazzling production, which was first seen at Lyric in 1992. This time around, the Hockney enjoyed a revival in San Francisco, while Chicago made do with an antique, travel-worn mounting by Allen Charles Klein, originally created for Florida Grand Opera in the 1980s. It was a rather tepid affair. Act I was promising: Klein’s unit setting of multilevel platforms, encircled by an enormous dragon, was attractively enhanced with various mobile accouterments and some particularly beautiful red and deep-violet washes from lighting designer Chris Maravich. In Act II, however, with these complementary elements removed, the show looked dreary and more than a little regional. Pomp and grandeur were lacking when we needed them most. Revival director Rob Kearley did what he could, but as with the Carmen last season, this mounting seemed a poor fit for the stage of an international-level company.

Lyric’s Turandot was Amber Wagner. Wagner’s gorgeous soprano was stunning in the final scene, where she achieved a perfect fusion of gleaming force and feminine vulnerability. “In questa reggia” was delivered with formidable power, and her lush timbre counted for much, though the phrasing was somewhat tentative. The riddle scene was nicely insinuating. Wagner’s is a voice that conquers with cream rather than steel, however. It was possible to admire her performance while questioning whether Puccini’s “Principessa di Morte” is ideal casting for her.

Stefano La Colla’s handsome Calàf manfully vocalized his way through a role that seemed a half-size large for him, though he has had notable success in it internationally. The tenor’s voice was admirably bright and stentorian above the staff, but less telling below. La Colla quaintly acknowledged a warm ovation for “Nessun dorma!” by breaking character to bow and appreciatively indicate the orchestra—an endearing bit of old Italian tradition or a questionable acting decision, depending on one’s point of view. Soprano Maria Agresta made an estimable company debut with a poignant Liù, graced by delicately floated pianissimos and a charming, committed stage presence. Andrea Silvestrelli’s bass is a trifle woolly these days, but his Timur tore one’s heart out. Zachary Nelson, Rodell Rosel and Keith Jameson were an adorable Ping, Pang and Pong trio. Patrick Guetti sang an unusually vital Mandarin. Josh Lovell, a first-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, sounded about twenty-three as Emperor Altoum (because he probably is); still, his lyric tenor is quite lovely.

The most thrilling singing came from Lyric’s superb chorus. The opening scene and Alfano finale found the assemblage creating a blazing wall of perfectly textured, colossal sound. Conductor Andrew Davis led an expansive reading of the score. The moon interlude brought some especially appealing playing from the winds, and the percussion essayed Puccini’s aural chinoiserie delightfully. There was much to enjoy here—though one ultimately left the theater musing that Lyric’s Turandotsare usually more exciting than this.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 

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