Opéra de Montréal’s sumptuous production of Turandot at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is a grand spectacle in every sense, but misses on some of the finer details. Constantly changing scenery, rich fabrics, colours and a complex lighting plan all contribute to a visual feast on stage in this production borrowed from Opera Australia and staged and choreographed by Graeme Murphy. At their best they lent a richness and variety to the action, and at their worst they could be distracting and kitschy.

Galina Shesterneva (Turandot) © Yves Renaud
Galina Shesterneva (Turandot)
© Yves Renaud

Set at the imperial court of Peking, this production features unashamed Asiana, with floating dragon screens, giant carved Buddha faces representing the moon, never-ending choruses of veiled ribbon dancers and a slight over-reliance on a fan motif, including two giant papery looking ones flanking the stage, thankfully folded away as the curtain rose on the first act. The chorus rarely moved but as a group in a highly stylised choreography which was quite well realised and effective in the crowd scenes but could be overwhelming and busy-looking in others. The chorus-heavy Act I was strong for this even if the constant parade of effects had something of the Olympic opening ceremonies alla Sochi (think glow-in-the-dark flying ghosts).

Some visuals were truly stunning, including a long red silk scarf pouring out the mouth of a giant white suspended moon to signify Turandot’s intention to execute the Prince of Persia, or the first view of Turandot herself, resplendent in bright white and rising from the back of the stage from behind an enormous white fan. Reflective metal blades and richly sequined costumes were lit so as to periodically blind the audience, enhancing the sense of imperial splendour, and the Emperor’s magnificent costume was a 30 foot tall robe of gold which draped all the way to the floor as he stood high above the stage on a concealed platform. By contrast, two black wooden risers on either side of the stage, which remained constant throughout the changing scenes, were scuffed and ratty-looking (they could have used a quick coat of paint) and a rickety hanging plexiglass moon (there were a lot of moons) showed its cables and looked a bit homemade.

Kamen Chanev (Calàf) © Yves Renaud
Kamen Chanev (Calàf)
© Yves Renaud

But beyond the sequins and machinery, Turandot must rest on the quality of the sung roles and the dramatic intensity of the plot. Hiromi Omura, in the role of Liù, was the standout with her richly dramatic and elastic voice and excellent physical acting. An audience favourite in Montreal since her company debut in 2008 as Cio-Cio San, she did not disappoint, particularly in her beautifully floated pianissimo finish to “Signore ascolta!”. Russian soprano Galina Sherterneva was effective as Turandot: if her first vocal entrance lacked an imperious quality, she soon gained her sea legs (she had to, since she was perched atop a rolling platform) and found that dramatic edge required for the role. Calàf, played by Kamen Chanev in his O de M debut, sang with a powerful tenor, but never quite rose to the occasion in his dramatic portrayal. He seemed stiff and ill-at-ease with stage movement, preferring to stand still and face the conductor. “Nessun dorma” provided just this opportunity, and he was vigorously cheered. Considering the morally bankrupt conclusion to the plot (the Prince happily marries the villain) only serious romantic fireworks between Calàf and Turandot can save this story. Unfortunately the love between Turandot and Calàf did not ring true owing to a lack of chemistry.  Ping, Pang and Pong were funny and well choreographed. American Jonathan Beyer stood out for his lovely baritone. Paul Nadler led the Orchestre metropolitain with good energy and pacing, though we could have sometimes used a bit more “oomph” in Puccini’s score.

***11