“Turandot!” cue gong in the form of a giant flame-throwing dragon. “Principessa!” cue Turandot’s dazzling appearance at the top of the tall metal tower to descend towards the stage. “Vincero!” cue the dramatic note of Nessun Dorma proceeded with fireworks in the night sky above Sydney Harbour.
Handa Opera really knows how to put on an show!
Turandot is by far my favourite opera (especially after seeing the stunning production with Yonghoon Lee last year) and I loved how well it translated to the outdoor venue of Handa. The creative team seem to understand that although the venue loses the intimacy and a bit of the power of the voices, it can attempt to compensate for this with a bit of “wow” factor. Or a lot of “wow” factor”.
The set is absolutely captivating. The dragon curling itself around the stage is giant, with the projected screens glistening along its body bringing movement to the set and the glowing eye enhancing the sinister feelings of the opera. And it breathes actual fire! At the other side of the stage stands the tall cruel-looking tower. The first appearance of the Princess atop this tower is as dramatic as it needs to be, and her glistening silver and blue robes capture the lights beautifully. She looks cold and distant, the perfect Turandot. The rest of the stage remains fairly clear to leave plenty of sloped space for the small team of dancers to leap and sway across its length.
If I were to say one thing about those incredible set pieces though, it would be that at some points I felt a bit of genuine concern for the mental state of the cast! Particularly Turandot atop that descending tower platform, the height would have been dizzing enough but having to sing while being jolted down towards the ground… Radakovic handled it well but I couldn’t help but feel maybe there was a less terrifying way to bring about that same awe.
There is no getting away from the fact that being outside and being mic-ed does lessen the impact of the voices too, but the cast handles it well. The chorus still manages to bring those wonderfully big numbers to their full sound, Pong (John Longmuir), Pang (Benjamin Rasheed) and Ping (Luke Gabbedy) are just as fun, Dragana Radakovic as Turandot is still just as piercing, Riccardo Massi as Calaf is still just as strong and brave (a voice that may not be a Yonghoon Lee but superb in its own way). The standout and clear crowd favorite is Hyeseoung Kwon reprising her role as Liu, who yet again perfectly captures the sweet heartbreak of her role with such a heartachingly beautiful voice.
Year on year Handa continues to deliver spectacular operas on our beloved Sydney Harbour, and with each passing year the wow just gets bigger and bigger. This production of Turandot set against the night sky with a backdrop of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Its love. Its name is love.
Nessun dorma until everyone has seen Turandot on Sydney Harbour! Performances until the 24th April. For more information visit www.opera.org.au
The reviewer attended Opening Night on the 24th March.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton