Puccini's Turandot is an opera to whose sinister charms I was long immune. I'm not sure what happened in recent years to make me love it. Certainly City Opera's glorious 2002 production of Il trittico and OONY's superb 2004 Fanciulla made me rethink my frosty relationship with brother Giacomo, but the thaw had started even earlier. I remember revisiting Tosca in the theatre seven or eight years ago and marvelling at its blessèd terseness: How refreshing, how professional, how *respectful* compared with the longueurs of, say, Don Carlos, Parsifal, or Cenerentola (all of which, mind you, I adore).
Then, too, in my old age, my tolerance for bullsh*t has dwindled to practically zero. Turandot's overt misogyny bothers me much less than the treacly, patronizing, but no less venomous depictions of women in many of the Strauss-von Hofmannsthal operas and Puccini's earlier works.
Act I of Turandot thrills me with it combination of awesome scale and exquisite detail. The smeared, shrieking harmonies of the opening pages and the gut-wrenching coup de théâtre of the gong-strokes; the watery, vertiginous ghost-chorus and the gossamer fragility of Liù's music; the sense of lurid, swirling darkness pierced by a pale moonrise; those brutal final chords, as sharp and peremptory as the executioner's sword… It all flies by in one great nightmarish gasp for me.
Plus, I admit it, I have a weakness for "unfinished" and "problematic" works, strongly preferring The Canterbury Tales* to The Divine Comedy, Hamlet to Macbeth, etc.
*[Assuming, of course, that The Canterbury Tales is actually unfinished! I have my doubts.]
Anyway, here is my Newsday review of New York City Opera's Turandot, which is a very strong show. I remind you that Berio's Turandot finale is available from Decca, and that Collegiate Chorale will give its New York premiere in January, with Aprile Millo (!) as Turandot.
If you have never seen City Opera's Turandot, I commend it to you in particular for the late Beni Montresor's beautiful sets and costumes. You know, last year, I think I was one of maybe three kooks broken up by the fact that Josef Svoboda's sets for the Met's Vêpres would probably never be seen again. Between our culture's general anti-theatrical prejudice and the "absolute" music piffle that holds sway among people who should know better, the material trappings of opera tend to get short shrift. Montresor's look is lush and painterly—old-fashioned, I guess, but in a good way. His use of color is breathtaking, and there are no shower facilities, plastic flowers, or AstroTurf anywhere to be seen (those being three clichés of contemporary set design that make me want to SCREAM).