Opera Australia pulled out all the stops for their latest production of Puccini’s Turandot: an excellent cast, fabulous choreography, amazing costumes and a great sense of drama all combined to make it a wonderful production at Sydney Opera House. The Opera Theatre is comparatively small by modern standards and is a very intimate venue in which to see an opera. It has the effect of enveloping the audience and drawing them right into the action. For the performers themselves, it provides them with the opportunity to really connect with the public; however, it also offers them no place to hide. The singers on Tuesday evening embraced the drama whole-heartedly, delivering their arias with great emotional intensity, and enabling those listening to experience every moment of sorrow, heartache and joy with them along their journeys.

Rosario La Spina (Prince Calaf) in Opera Australia's Turandot, © Branco Gaica
Rosario La Spina (Prince Calaf) in Opera Australia's Turandot,
© Branco Gaica

The superb cast of soloists was ably supported by some gutsy playing by the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Arvo Volmer and by the powerful singing of the Opera Australia Chorus. They played the part of the blood-thirsty crowd with great venom. As usual, they sang with great directness and communication. Like the auditorium, the stage in the Opera Theatre is comparatively small, but despite the high number of singers on the stage and the complexity of the choreography, the stage never once looked crowded or indeed static. The production was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, from the dark, foreboding costumes of the executioners wielding their glinting axes, to the sun-like appearance of Turandot, who appeared in a stunning blaze of white light.

The most famous aria in Turandot is ‘Nessun Dorma’, made famous at the 1990 Fifa World Cup by Pavarotti. This is delivered by the character Calaf at the beginning of Act III. He will only win Turandot if she is not able to discover his name by dawn. We are so used to hearing this aria out of context, performed separately from the rest of the opera, that it is worth acknowledging how well ‘Nessun Dorma’ works dramatically at this place in the work. Calaf sings of his determination to succeed, that at dawn he will triumph and finally win the love of the ice-cold Turandot. The part of Calaf was sung by Australian tenor, Rosario La Spina, one which is vocally extremely demanding; however, every note he sang was wrought with emotion and his high notes were simply thrilling, ringing out with apparent ease.

American-born soprano Susan Foster was perfectly cast as Turandot. She portrayed the untouchable nature of the title character with aplomb. Her voice had a great openness to it and a wonderful ringing vibrato. There was excellent casting too in the characters of Ping, Pang and Pong, who add a comic aspect to the opera. One of the highlights of the evening was the beginning of Act II, where they reminisce longingly of the distant country homes they have left behind. The three singers, Andrew Moran, David Corcoran and Graeme Macfarlane, played off each other perfectly, their resonant voices ideally suited to their roles. There was also wonderful singing from Jud Arthur as Timur, Calaf’s father, who effectively portrayed the hunched-over, aging, exiled King, looking on with an almost glazed, powerless expression as Liù suffers her fate in Act III. Liù, played by Daria Masiero, is the real heroine of the story. She sacrifices herself rather than revealing the name of Calaf. Masiero delivered some really beautiful singing.

Despite the sacrifice of Liù, Turandot is undoubtedly an opera about the transforming power of love. In the end, Calaf is finally able to achieve the seemingly unachievable in wooing Turandot. Judging by the warm reception of the audience, there can be no doubt that this talented Opera Australia cast effectively wooed those present on Tuesday evening.