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American Record Guide, December 2008

This is a 1983 production from the stage of the Vienna Opera of Puccini’s last and uncompleted opera; it uses the usual ending by Franco Alfano. The production is by Harold Prince, known for his many Broadway musicals, including Bernstein’s Candide. The staging is fairly conventional; the stage is dominated by a long but narrow staircase (it reminds me of many subway entrances in New York City and London) and very few other props. In Act 3 the staircase is rotated 90 degrees and its side, now brightly lit, offers the background for the final duet. The very colorful costumes, credited to Timothy O'Brien and Tazeena Firth, capture one’s attention immediately; they are vaguely Asiatic but not particularly Chinese. The Chinese singers are masked, except for the Emperor; but the mask comes off when the individual changes—like Turandot in the final duet. The stage is often quite dark and becomes awash with light only at the end of Act 3.

Eva Marton has the vocal power and thrilling high register for the title role. In 1983 her voice was firm and usually accurate, notably in Act 2. In the final scene she was less effective; her transformation from icy princess to loving wife is not convincing. But that’s true of most Turandots, including Birgit Nilsson. Carreras is the best singer here. He pours out unstintingly his then glorious voice: it’s strong, smooth, gorgeous in sound, always true. But his singing is sometimes too unrelenting; there isn’t much dynamic shading in his work. Still, this is Carreras at his best. The role suits him very well; it doesn’t require sophisticated acting.

Ricciarelli’s Liu is also well sung; her warm voice was then under better control than in later years. Her acting seems inhibited; I’ve seen more wrenching interpretations of that unfortunate character. I sensed that she is uncomfortable, whether from inexperience in the role or production problems. Bogart’s large and resonant voice is ideal for Timur; he seems to be a good singing actor. Kmentt, clad in what looks like a Roman toga, is an unusually young monarch; but his clear and firm tenor is a definite asset to the performance.

The three Ministers make the most of their opportunities; they all sing well but overact, perhaps because Maazel’s slow tempos gives them too much time. Indeed, the performance often seems static; Maazel seems to interpret the opera as a pageant, not as a drama with human emotions and their resolution. The lack of theatrical skills of most of the principals (Carreras, for one, just waves his arms around like many tenors do) doesn’t help, but neither does Maazel’s inflexibility in dynamics as well as tempo. Still, the orchestra does its share; the playing is balanced and irresistibly beautiful.

Eric Myers
Opera News, September 2008

Broadway legend Harold Prince gave the Wiener Staatsoper a memorable Turandot in 1983. A comparatively minimalist affair, it reserved lavishness for its costumes, not its stark sets. Three operatic superstars of the era led the cast, and the result was a spectacular evening especially well suited to the transfer from stage to home video.

Trying Turandot on for size, Eva Marton found the role a perfect fit for her steely bearing, dramatic acuity and wide-ranging voice. Whether lancing out shining shafts of sound in her generous upper range or belting in her scary chest register, she claimed the part as her own with this gutsy performance and went on to deepen and refine it throughout the '80s in most of the world's major houses.

José Carreras rook on a role far too heavy for his lyric instrument. The strain is not immediately apparent here, though it would show some years later. For this performance, his voice was even and true, and under Prince's guiding hand, he clearly makes an attempt at characterization—not an easy thing to do with a shallowly drawn, stand-and-deliver role such as Calàf. Katia Ricciarelli plays a Liù who is disguising herself as a boy, and the look is not particularly flattering. She sings her two arias with lovely, expressive tone but unfortunately is not able to deliver securely the ethereal sustained pianissimos that are essential in the part.

John-Paul Bogart is a stoic Timur with a strong, firmly-produced sound, and he makes the most of his lament over Liù's body. Robert Kerns, Helmut Wildhaber and Heinz Zednik are a theatrically vivid Ping, Pang and Pong. Veteran Waldemar Kmentt, then fifty-four, seems like a heldentenor slumming in the bit part of Emperor Altoum. His performance gives the impression that he's ready to sing all three acts of Tristan und Isolde.

With sets and costumes designed by Timothy O'Brien and Tazeena Firth, Prince gives us a Turandot dominated by industrial shades of deep blue and slate-gray. The imperial staircase is a steep, narrow configuration constantly changing position as it looms over the action. Prince is able to inject his trademark catwalk motif through the use of two arched, bridge-like staircases that meet at center stage near the top of the proscenium. Masks play an effective part in Prince's conception; they are variously worn by several members of the court, and Turandot herself frequently hides her face behind one, particularly when she feels threatened by Calàf's love.

Lorin Maazel's conducting is somewhat slow and deliberate, emphasizing the feeling of grandeur and destiny inherent in the score, yet never slackening the tension. Despite the large production, video director Rodney Greenberg does such an expert job that he is able to convince us that we are not missing much by seeing it squeezed onto the small screen.

Warwick Thompson
Classic FM, June 2008

Vocally, this 1983 production has one of the most dream-team casts ever assembled for Puccini's tale of the murderous princess Turandot. Hungarian soprano Eva Marton has all the unstoppable weight of a supertanker, but brings a golden gorgeousness to her sound, and Carreras and Ricciarelli have the lighter, more Italianate voices perfect for their roles. Maazel occasionally comes a cropper in the pit, but Harold Prince's lavish and cleverly 'stylised-traditional' production hits every target it aims at. The entrance of the masked Turandot coming down a humongous staircase from heaven is a particular treat.

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