Turandot Will Set Her Riddles to Solve by the Residents and Guests of the Capital
Fantasy, fairytale, passion, emotions and love – all this is about the new production of G. Puccini’s opera Turandot. Stunning performances of the international and domestic opera stars, ultramodern sets created with the use of never before used theatrical technology, costumes with intricate Chinese cuts and numerous other surprises will amaze the viewers. Incredible in its scale tandem of international teams (Kazakhstan – China – Italy) is implemented under the leadership of the world-famous conductor Alan Buribayev and the celebrated stage director Davide Livermore. The premiere is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the capital and will be held with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan on June 22 and 23.
At the heart of the opera Turandot is the 12th century story about the love of Turandot and Calaf. At one time, it captured the attention of the playwright C. Gozzi, and he wrote a fairytale based on it. This fairytale caught the fancy of the outstanding composer G. Puccini, who created the priceless work that is now a part of the world opera treasury.
The world premiere of Turandot took place in Milan on April 25, 1926. The composer died before completing his work on the opera, and all future performances ended with the final duet and finale written by Franco Alfano based on the author’s notes.
The heroes of the Italian commedia dell’arte are portrayed in this opera as calculating Chinese officials, performed by the soloists of the China National Opera House. Turandot (the Austrian dramatic soprano Martina Serafin and the Kazakh opera diva Zhupar Gabdullina) represents in this opera the personification of cruelty and unattainable beauty. In order to take revenge on all men, she comes up with trials for her suitors – three riddles, and those who cannot solve them will be immediately executed. Only the Unknown Prince Calaf (the Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev), who is in love with her, passes the test. Due to the strength of his feelings and ingenuity, he solves all three riddles and is now ready to melt the heart of the headstrong princess, but only after she guesses his name.
Zhupar Gabdullina – Turandot – is diligently preparing for the upcoming premiere. The artist explains that she has already been performing this part for a long time, consequently, it is up to the stage direction now: learning the mise-en-scenes and putting into action the ideas of Davide Livermore.
“On account of the beauty of my heroine, the princes’ heads roll. Before Calaf, 14 of the princess’ suitors died. In many other productions where I happened to perform this role, the appearance of Turandot onstage was akin to ice that cools everything around her. In the libretto, she is only 14 years old. Therefore, in this production, the stage director interprets her actions from a psychological point of view. At one time, her grandmother was cruelly violated by some foreigners, so Turandot takes vengeance on all men in her name. Since birth, not a single one of them has touched her yet. Calaf’s right answers to all her riddles bring her great pain and disappointment. The princess says, “I will let you go, go your own way”, but meets resistance. In response, she receives a riddle from the protagonist, which she cannot solve. This is a really difficult role, and I will do my best to try to create this character, to convey to the audience the director’s main idea. According to Davide Livermore’s vision, Turandot is feminine, lithe; all of her movements are very pliant, which attracts men. In regard to vocals, hard work is to be done as well,” said Zhupar Gabdullina.
Martina Serafin is also preparing the part of Turandot. The world-famous opera singer shared her impressions of her work in Astana.
“The Astana Opera is a beautiful opera house, very well organized. For me, as an opera singer, acoustics are important, and the acoustics here are very good. Working with the conductor was a big pleasure. I also had a wonderful time working together with my colleagues – Kazakhstani singers and with the orchestra, which has a very beautiful sound. I have found very professional atmosphere here. The Stage Director Davide Livermore is giving his all to this production. He is working with every choir artist as if each of them were a soloist. He focuses on the characters emotions. Turadot is a role that I love very much, and sing a lot in my life. I am quite happy to share my interpretation with the audience of Astana. I would like to congratulate the people of Kazakhstan on the significant date – the 20th anniversary of the capital. I know that this performance is dedicated to the celebration of the anniversary, and I am happy to be a part of this event,” said Martina Serafin.
Honored Artist of Kazakhstan, state prize laureate Maira Mukhamedkyzy and Honored Artist of Kazakhstan Zhannat Baktai, who has repeatedly interpreted this role at various international venues, will perform the fragile slave girl Liu, who is in love with Calaf.
This will be the debut performance of this part for the opera prima Maira Mukhamedkyzy.
“This defenseless girl with incredibly powerful inner energy amazes me very much. Such a strong love is rarely found on this earth, not everyone is given the opportunity to feel it. The audience remembers Liu by her heroic deed. All three arias that I have to perform are very difficult. The first aria is tender and exquisite; here she declares her love for Calaf, talks about her feelings. In the second aria, I must convey a storm of emotions raging in my heroine’s chest, because her beloved first saw Turandot and went crazy for the beautiful princess, not hearing or seeing anything around him. Liu cannot accept this, but her heart is still full of love. And since fate has decreed that they are not destined to be together, Liu kills herself, saving Calaf. Thus, the emotional, impassioned Liu is a contrasting character. She is the opposite of the cold Turandot. What is the difficulty in performing this part? The need to simultaneously deliver dramatic acting, meanwhile not forgetting about the technically complex vocals,” noted Maira Mukhamedkyzy.
Director Davide Livermore has already worked at the Astana Opera in 2017 as a jury member of Placido Domingo’s Operalia, World Opera Competition. He was happy to accept the opera house’s invitation to stage G. Puccini’s opera Turandot.
“I am very happy to be here, and I also feel great joy that our countries are united by a cultural bridge. I am grateful to the opera house’s management for the opportunity to work in this wonderful opera house again. I came into contact with Turandot for the first time when I was 6 years old. My father gave me a CD with the recording of this opera. The part with the children’s choir performance impressed me back then. After learning this excerpt, I often sang it in my room. Hence, this opera is with me since childhood. There are very distinctive characters in it. I believe that every person living on this earth can also be a prince, in another period of his life finding the traits of Ping, Pong and Pang within himself. Well, right now Calaf is the closest to me. I would like to experience life and believe in love, like he does,” shared Davide Livermore.
In the Spirit of Showmanship…
Set and Costume Designers Sofya Tasmagambetova and Pavel Dragunov suggested an interesting design concept for this production. It consists of mixture of styles, but the Chinese symbolism still remains the key element. The audience will see a fantasy China, as described by the author of the libretto, therefore there is a freedom of ideas for the designers here. For the first time, ultramodern technologies will be used, creating various bright effects. The appearance of a dragon and horses, as well as a spectacular stage transformation will add color to the production.
The set and costume designers’ ideas were implemented by the experienced craftsmen of the Artistic and Production Complex, headed by Victor Carare.
“For the first time at our opera house, we will use video projections on LED backdrops, which move around the stage throughout the performance. They simultaneously complement the frontal and rear projections, which consist of screens 24 meters wide and 15 meters high. To the surprise of the audience, it will be raining in the first act, and the water will be absolutely real. A unique combination of light and video content will create one of a kind theatrical magic. Incidentally, the light plays a very important role in this production. Among other things, we have built lifting mechanisms for the titular character, which will be appearing from under the ground, and be raised about 3 meters above the steppe (!). The Restoration and Craft Shop is finishing the work on the palace and columns; the Prop Shop has also carried out a large volume of work. With each new production, we are writing an unparalled theatrical history, gaining experience, which allows us to implement the most incredible projects at a very high level. This way, the viewers who come to us, enter a special world,” emphasized Victor Carare.
“Turandot is a very rich artistic material. First of all, we were guided by the director’s vision, the technical equipment of the stage, which we tried to make the most of. The space will transform, at times becoming immense, and at times more compact. Having studied the history of the productions of Turandot, I will definitely say that our production does not repeat any of the previous international versions. The Astana Opera production will have a unique blend of Asian and Chinese styles, that is, there will be a symbolism of these two cultures in the sets,” explained Set and Costume Designer Sofya Tasmagambetova.
The color palette both in the costumes and the sets is rather restrained, which carried particular significance. On the contrary, this ‘non-brightness’ makes it possible to highlight the most important thing, which is the action. Black and white colors create a specific shadow accent.
“We used silk to make the costumes, but to a greater degree we utilized one of the more expensive fabrics – jacquard. Trimming and decorating are secondary here, and tape, braid or buttons are not at all characteristic to this production. The difficulty was in the use of specific Chinese cutting techniques, which the Costume Shop tailors know very well. In addition, fabric texture was very important. Its main function is keeping the shape of the costumes. The main heroine Turandot is always in front of the audience, which makes for a new task – costume changes need to take place right onstage. Thus, four different cloaks will alternately complement the base outfit. The princess’ last dress is red. In total, we have made 247 costumes, which took more than 2 thousand meters of fabric. Such a large amount is due to the choir artists’ costume changes. Initially we planned for them to be in the same costumes throughout the entire production, but then it was decided to increase that by another costume change,” concluded the set and costume designer.
In Detail about the Little Things
There was a serious task before the Prop Shop – to create many intricate details, painstakingly encrust the ministers’ orders, chisel medals for the princes, which will then decorate the lapels of their costumes. Incidentally, the military theme is a common thread running through the production here. Halberds for the executioners and guards, combat swords, short swords, ritual swords, curved sabers made of metal and wood stretched out on the carpenter’s machine serve as a confirmation of this. Prop masters carefully carve out the grips of the weaponry, and, instead of the usual steel, use aluminum for the tips. Only then all this beauty is decorated and finished with leather. In addition, the craftsmen made swallows on sticks, which will be used in dance scenes. In order to create the flight effect, the wings were made of fabric so that they can easily move.
The manufacturing technique for umbrellas, fans, staffs requires a lot of time, their coloring is characteristic of the Eastern culture. The work on making traditional Chinese straw hats is no less laborious. They were made from papier-mâché, taking into account a special form, which was decorated with twine on top. Such a head piece weighs about 400 grams! Attention is also paid to the armor manufacture, of which there are 22 pieces. It takes 200 pieces of leather to make each one of them.
The Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra and Choir under the baton of the Music Director and Conductor Alan Buribayev rehearsed for several months in order to achieve filigree sound. A particular importance is placed on the choir, which has a paramount role in this opera. Principal Chorus Master of the Astana Opera, Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Dautov honed the skills of not only the Astana Opera Choir artists, but also those of the artists of the China National Opera House.
It is known that the composer G. Puccini worked on the opera Turandot from the summer of 1920 until his death in the year 1924. At the premiere of the opera at the Teatro alla Scala, the music suddenly stopped in the middle of the final act: Arturo Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died.” Franco Alfano, a friend of Puccini, who had achieved international recognition with his opera Risurrezione twenty years before, completed Turandot, using Puccini’s draft of the final duet, which he had at his disposal. This version of the finale will be performed at the Astana Opera.
The opera Turandot is the Astana Opera’s twenty-fourth premiere. The production without a doubt can be called larger than life. Thanks to the titanic work of the production team, residents and guests of the capital will definitely enjoy this spectacular performance.