Fearless soprano helps save flawed 'Turandot'

February 26, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The Washington Opera's current production of "Turandot" is far from perfect. But this production at the Kennedy Center of Puccini's last (and not quite completed) masterpiece is as good as anyone in the Baltimore-Washington area is likely to hear. WhThe Washington Opera's current production of "Turandot" is far from perfect. But this production at the Kennedy Center of Puccini's last (and not quite completed) masterpiece is as good as anyone in the Baltimore-Washington area is likely to hear. What it's got going for it is a soprano with the firepower and stamina for the role, a tenor with a fresh and large voice and -- for "Turandot" connoisseurs -- a somewhat different version of the finale than the one we usually hear.

You can carp about Eva Marton, the Hungarian soprano who sang Turandot. The huge voice, which has endured hundreds of Turandots, Brunnhildes, Salomes and Elektras in recent years, now has more than its share of rough edges. But if anyone can name a living singer who does more justice to this vocal cord-shredder of a role, I'm all ears. Marton may be a shouter -- she is loud -- but she's musical, fearless and she can still blast through the composer's ungrateful orchestration. Her Calaf, .

Lando Bartolini, often sang quite beautifully. His timbre was sweet and velvety enough to make the lyricism of "Nessun dorma" affecting and he had sufficient power to hold the stage (sometimes a little precariously) alongside Marton.

In other roles, Maria Spacagna -- although her voice seemed at times uncomfortable -- was an effective Liu, Gabor Andrasny was an imposing Timur and James Michael McGuire, Melvin Lowery and Jonathan Green were amusing as Ping, Pang and Pong. In the trio that begins Act II, Ping, Pang and Pong were more than just amusing. Their music, as they reflect upon their lives, is some of the best Puccini ever wrote and McGuire, who has a big, handsome baritone and physical presence to match it, made a particularly fine impression.

Zack Brown's sets and costumes were suitably garish and intelligent, Lofti Mansouri's stage direction seemed thrown together rather than carefully thought out and the conducting of Steven Mercurio -- who occasionally seemed unable to coordinate his orchestra with the large, excellent chorus and his singers -- was not exactly overwhelming.

But one of the interesting things that Mercurio did was to give us a new version of the last scene, which Puccini never finished. The conductor went back to Franco Alfano's original completion of the score to add seven minutes to the Arturo Toscanini-shortened version we usually hear. The verdict here is that Toscanini knew what he was doing.

All performances of "Turandot," which runs through March 13, are sold out. Standing room is available for $10. For information call (202) 416-7800.

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