TURANDOT (1-23-07) 

By Lawrence Budmen 

Turandot is grand opera writ large – massive crowd scenes, exotic settings, heroic arias that require voices of steely brilliance. Gold Coast Opera (in collaboration with the touring company Teatro Lirico d’ Europa) made a valiant effort to present Puccini’s massive canvass and managed to field a cast that was mostly equal to the challenge on January 22 at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts. 

Gianfranco Barbetta’s production seemed an upscale version of the 1950’s and 60’s efforts by Anthony Stivanello (a.k.a. Mr. Instant Opera), replete with painted backdrops, vaguely Oriental costumes, and silent movie histrionics. 

This production offered some impressive vocalism. Victoria Litherland (a well traveled soprano who has sung leading roles at the New York’ s Metropolitan Opera) was every inch the imperious Princess Turandot whose penalty is death for suitors who fail to solve her three riddles. Like many singers who attempt this role, her voice sometimes became shrill in the upper register and she exhibited a disturbing vibrato in the entrance aria In questa reggia. By the final duet, her large dramatic voice was under control and she unfurled some lustrous vocalism, capped with thrilling high C’s. (Unfortunately, Franco Alfano’s ambitious, imaginative completion of the duet and finale was not performed.) 

As Liu, Melody Alessi seemed more prima donna than Chinese slave but her sizable lyrico-spinto soprano embraced Puccini’s vocal line with impassioned fervor, bringing great poignancy to Liu’s death scene. 

As Prince Calaf, Gabriel Gonzales displayed an ardent lyric tenor with no sign of strain in the upper range. Nessun Dorma was sung with taste as well as passion. 

Dimiter Stantchev brought unusual stature to the often innocuous role of Timur. Stantchev’s dark Slavic bass (in the manner of Ivan Petrov and Boris Christoff) exalted in rotund declamation. Hi Fong Gi made the Emperor Altoum a star cameo with an elegant character tenor voice and scrupulous musicianship.

The undersized chorus sang with exhuberance and gave a reasonable facsimile of the stentorian choral writing. The touring Bulgarian orchestral ensemble proved uneven with blaring, not always precise brasses balanced by silky strings. Gold Coast Opera artistic director Thomas Cavendish conducted with surging momentum and astutely highlighted Puccini’s Debussy inflected orchestral impressionism.

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