The version of Turandot proposed at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma is the one that is left without an ending. It stops after Liù’s touching death scene, just as Arturo Toscanini did at the work's premiere in April 1926. Due to his declining health, Giacomo Puccini never managed to succeed in solving musically the plot's denouement after Prince Calaf deciphers Turandot's riddles and, as the ice princess' heart melts, they declare their love. Most productions adopt Franco Alfano’s completion of the opera or – very rarely – Luciano Berio’s. It is quite uncommon to perform Turandot in its unfinished state, as they did in Rome, although this is also the case at the Bayerische Staatsoper where conductor Oksana Lyniv served as assistant to Kirill Petrenko from 2013-17.

Adriana Ferfecka (Liù) and Marco Spotti (Timur)
© Fabrizio Sansoni | Opera di Roma

Ai Weiwei's first operatic staging (direction, sets, costumes and videos) is controversial, a gigantic, enjoyable funfair where the artist's radical and intellectual quirks are displayed in all their glory. Videos and computer animations from present times are projected, quite unconnected to the plot's dramaturgy, but dealing with some iconic moments: anti-government protests and their suppression in Hong Kong, refugees in Ukraine, flying bombs. In other moments, the audience is presented with videos of a quiet Venetian canal or peaceful autumnal woods. As for the costumes, particularly noticeable are the giant frog worn on Calaf's back and the headdresses, which are suggestive sculptures. The show has a thoroughly great impact, resulting in a “guided” estrangement, which aims to leave the public disconcerted, but with care. As Prospero says in the epilogue of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the project “was to please”, a result which is dear even to this most revolutionary artist.

Ai Weiwei's Turandot in Rome
© Fabrizio Sansoni | Opera di Roma

Ewa Vesin’s Turandot was not very powerful, even though she has an incisive soprano for the part. She seemed to require some effort in her upper range, with vocal colour and tightness never totally controlled. Tenor Angelo Villari sang Calaf beautifully, with a surprisingly great voice. More lyrical than dramatic, he did a very good job in the “Nessun dorma”, the most anticipated aria, of course. Adriana Ferfecka was a sweet Liù, always controlling her mezza voce with a soft and captivating cantabile line, until her final sacrifice, when the little slave commits suicide in order to save the life of Prince Calaf, whom she loves desperately.

Rodrigo Ortiz (Altoum), Ewa Vesin (Turandot) and Angelo Villari (Calaf)
© Fabrizio Sansoni | Opera di Roma

The three ministers were well cast: Alessio Verna (Ping), Enrico Iviglia (Pang) and Pietro Picone (Pong), whose voices and acting were well combined. Also convincing was Marco Spotti as a sad and disconsolate Timur. The Emperor Altoum of Rodrigo Ortiz was good, as was Andrii Ganchuk's Mandarin. The chorus, prepared by Roberto Gabbiani, was very appreciable, sometimes having to sing in difficult positions conceived by the director.

Ewa Vesin (Turandot) and Adriana Ferfecka (Liù)
© Fabrizio Sansoni | Opera di Roma

Internationally renowned Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv has been fervent in support of her country's resistance against Russian invasion, the Rome house lit up in blue and yellow lights in recent weeks. Lyniv's reading was analytical but at the same time highly expressive, as she rendered in depth Puccini's complex score in which he lavished his mastery of contemporary musical developments. Her choice of the colours were intriguing, as was the theatrical tension she aroused between the extreme contrasts which are present in this opera. At this matinee performance, Lyniv received a lot of applause. 

****1