Turandot a Dayton Opera classic
Dayton Opera opened its season with Puccini’s Turandot. The opera was so complete and so satisfying that this article becomes a paean of praise for another example of “Bankston Magic” rather than a critical review.
Impresario Tom Bankston has proved that he can assemble casts, directors and the stagecraft to create wonderful operas. In this Turandot, he produced a true operatic synthesis of music and voice.
Turandot, Puccini’s final opera, is a masterpiece of mature genius. It is, nevertheless, a difficult work to present. It is a fairy tale of an icy princess who has become a man-hater to revenge the rape and killing of a distant relative. Her answer is to become a man-killer by riddle. Suitors for her hand and crown must answer three questions. When they fail, they lose their heads, literally – not figuratively.
Along comes an exiled prince, Calaf. Quite accidentally, his blind and likewise exiled father, Timur, appears. Timur’s guide is a lovely slave girl, Liù. Her devotion, to the death as we will see, is in repayment of a smile Calaf once flashed her way.
Calaf falls completely for Turandot and rings her gong, signaling his willingness to bet his head on his riddle-solving ability. The riddle contest, the proclamations of Turandot, Calaf’s win and offer a further forfeit provide little action on stage. Turandots are usually static spectacles showcasing magnificent music.
This Turandot erases that image by the incredible quality of the singing. Each character emerges from magnificently costumed tableaux into exciting life. Excellent stage direction by Benjamin Spierman adds little movement but highlights the magnetic vocal portrayals. Even the Virginia Opera set has a clever elevator to bring the crystalline characters into effective interrelations.
It is the singing which takes Puccini’s immortal music into sweeping energy. Backed by the Philharmonic’s artists conducted peerlessly by Steven Crawford, each aria vibrates with life and the quality of each character.
When NaGuanda Nobles offers her heart-breaking opening aria, the audience is swept into complete sympathy for her hopeless loving devotion. Heroic tenor Dongwon Shin’s response as Calaf, Non piangere, Liù, “Don’t weep, Liù,” establishes his nobility.
Robin Follman, a physically beautiful Turandot, has to wait for the second scene to work her vocal magic, but her stately presence reveals the germ of her humanity at the first haughty appearance. Jeffrey Powell’s chorus and the three comic characters, Ping, Pang and Pong, amplify the musical actions of the first act into charming believability.
Robin Follman, in her role and Dayton opera debut, makes her Turandot a conceivable love object for the ardent Calaf. Even in her ringing tones of the great tour de force aria In questa reggia, there are elements of a humanity too often missing from the physically imposing Turandots customarily seen. She is a true artist who makes it possible for the audience to love her in spite of her formidable demeanor.
To add to the charm of the opera, there is a children’s chorus including a quartet of young charmers whose few minutes on stage glow. Rumor has it that one of these is Emma, the granddaughter of The Oakwood Register publisher Do Winkler-Wagner.
Dongwon Shin’s Act III challenge is to sing the tenor national anthem, Nessun dorma! His rendition was not merely vocal acrobatics but clearly projected the message of his faith in Turandot’s ability to love him.
Unfortunately Puccini’s signature is to give the audience immortal arias only once - no repeats ala Wagner. I was longing for a second verse to feed my need for the great message of love and hope contained in the aria.
In fact, this Turandot, still available for two more performances Friday and Sunday, October 24th and 26th , deserves the “don’t miss” category. Call for tickets to see global warming in action - the Ice Princess thaws!
DPO October concert
The previous week’s financial collapse cast a pall on everything. Its tentacles even extended to the arts.
The Dayton Philharmonic concert, full of intriguing musical treats, was greeted by a small and even restrained audience. After a week of asking each other, “Do you have power,” the question had become, “How much have you lost.”
Maestro Neal Gittleman and the wonderful artists of the Dayton Philharmonic did not let their value slide. This orchestra plays magnificent music. It presents concerts of exciting variety. The very essence of music, all of the arts, is to transcend the mundane and even the unfortunate in our lives.
The October concert provided that variety. It opened with a Rossini Overture, Semiramide. The long horn introduction was peerless and the dynamic music almost had the Lone Ranger riding into view. Alas, that is from another Rossini masterwork.
The rest of the concert was “new” music, some of which was quite old. Of the three Dayton premieres, only Joan Tower’s Tambor was contemporary. A celebration of percussion, four very busy percussionists made the rest of the orchestra an “honorary” percussion section. The excitement was pervasive as we heard sounds, unfamiliar but joyous.
This was preceded by Giusepe Martucci’s Notturno. Originally premiered in 1888, Maestro Neal and the orchestra brought its absolutely beautiful melodies to full realization.
The final, and grandest work, was Schubert’s Mass. With full orchestra, soloists and chorus, it promised to be, and delivered the promise of magnificent sound. I, a devout lover of Schubert’s grand outpouring of music, expected that the spirit of his 1600 songs would pervade the churchy atmosphere.
The church tradition won. I was disappointed that it did not provide another pure Schubert experience for me, but it was a glorious Mass.
Turandot brings Chinese Cultural Celebration to Schuster Center
The Dayton Association of Chinese Americans (DACA) and the Dayton Opera are joining together to bring a Chinese Cultural Celebration to the Schuster Center prior to all three performances of the Dayton Opera’s production of Turandot. The Celebration will take place in the Wintergarden and will feature demonstrations on calligraphy, paper cutting, paper knotting, Mah Jongg, table tennis, yo-yo spinning, story telling, singing and other traditional dances.
Performances are Friday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m. Single tickets are on sale now and start at $15. To order by phone, call 937-228-3630. For more information about Dayton Opera visit www.daytonopera.org.
Dayton Ballet’s Dracula ascends stage Oct. 23 - 26
Dayton Ballet brings back the heart-wrenching and mesmerizing Dracula to ignite your Halloween with passion and excitement. Oct. 23-26, 2008 at the Victoria Theatre. Called “…ingenious…chilling…horrifying,” by the New York Times, Stuart Sebastian’s Dracula is one of Dayton Ballet’s most requested ballets. Based on the striking and unnerving novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula combines eerie sets and costumes with captivating movement that is sure to have you clenching the arms of your seat!
Created by former Dayton Ballet Director Stuart Sebastian, Dracula combines athleticism, spectacular music and exquisite costumes to tell Stoker’s story of Dracula, a vampire infatuated with a young and glamorous Lucy Westenra, and pursues her with desperation and passion. Originally premiered in February 1998, Dracula was the final ballet conceptualized and conceived by Stuart Sebastian, it has been a favorite of the Dayton community.
To purchase tickets for Dracula and Nosferatu, visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or call Ticket Center Stage at 937-228-3630 or toll free in Ohio at 888-228-3630.
DSPS Fall Show running through Oct. 26
The Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors is presenting their annual Fall Member Show, a juried show of the best works of fine art and sculpture by its members, at its 48 High Street Gallery. The Fall Member Show will be running through Oct. 26.
The gallery is located at 48 High Street, in Dayton’s St. Anne’s Hill Historic District. Gallery hours are: Thursdays and Fridays 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free at all times. For more information call 937-258-4532.
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October 21, 2008
Volume 17, No. 43
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