Big City Lights: Turandot

June 8, 2010

by Maya

Hello you! It’s time to finish my Berlin Special with the ultimate highlight of my stay. On a Sunday evening my girls and I got all glammed up for the opera. We went to see Turandot at Deutsche Oper Berlin. It was my very first opera and it totally blew my mind. It was a totally magical experience.

I must confess that for a very long time I had had problems understanding classical music, opera in particular. But I have always respected it as one of the highest art forms and recently started to appreciate classical pieces. I guess this is a positive effect of getting older: you become more open-minded about trying different things.

Turandot is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924). He died without finishing his last masterpiece. It was completed by Franco Alfano and premiered in Milan’s Teatro alla Scala in 1926. It contains some of the most famous arias in opera history.

I have to say that I felt a pang of disappointment when I first realized that this one was a modern version. I had expected grand costumes and a historic stage setting. In retrospect I feel that the  simplicity of the setting helped to focus on the music alone. The uber talented José Cura performed as Calaf (tenor). Catherine Foster was Turandot (soprano). Her voice is beautiful but I was really impressed by Manuela Uhl’s performance as Liù (soprano).

I was stunned to realize that the evening was nearly sold out and there were people of different ages in the audience. The standing ovations at the end were entirely overwhelming. So I guess the common assumption that only intellectuals in their late fifties can enjoy opera is just a cliché. 😉

Although I have never found it on one of those “good for beginners” lists, I think Turandot is a great choice if you are not familiar with opera but would like to try. First, it contains some really beautiful arias that have been widely used in “popular culture”. You do not necessarily need to be an opera connoisseur to instantly recognize the central pieces. Second, it is not very long. I think this is an important point to be considered by absolute beginners because it is such an intense experience which requires an immense amount of concentration. You have to focus on the music and the singing, at the same time you need to read the supertitles if you want to actually understand the plot and then of course you have to follow the action on stage.

I definitely encourage everyone to give it a try. If it’s not for you it will still be an interesting experience. But chances are that you will discover a whole new world. And this is how I felt about it.

Other operas I would like to try:

La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi)

Lakmé (Leo Delibes): this one is rarely played in Germany although it’s quite popular in other countries.

Carmen (Georges Bizet)

Mme Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini)

It seems that I have a weak spot for tragic female characters ;).

Here are some popular recordings of Turandot:

And of course the awe-inspiring “Nessun Dorma”


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