Metropolitan Opera 2015-16, 'Turandot' Review: Nina Stemme Triumphs as Turandot
Nina Stemme has long been considered one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of our time. And yet, she has only appeared twice in the Metropolitan Opera’s history, and it has taken six years for her to return to the house.
After presenting Puccini’s “Turandot” in the fall, the Met revived the opera for Stemme, a role she has recently added to her repertoire and has performed worldwide. And in her third performance of the run Stemme showed why she is important to the opera world and should remain a mainstay in New York.
The character of Turandot takes about an hour to enter onto the scene and the first thing she must sing is the demanding aria “In questa reggia.” Stemme started off the aria in full voice and there was a freshness to it. She was a commanding figure, and her upper register was spotless. Each high note, including her high C at the end of the aria, pierced through the orchestra with power and authority. That was enhanced by her acting as she moved about the stage in a threatening fashion to emphasize who was in command. However, at moments she glanced at Calaf as if she was under his spell.
However, Stemme’s Icy princess showed her vulnerable side once her three riddles were guessed correctly. In this production she is literally undressed from her magisterial cape and crown and left in robes. Her most vulnerable side is seen and she can no longer hide her self with the pageantry. In her subsequent verse “Figlio del cielo” she begs her father not to give her away to a stranger. In this passage Stemme caressed each line in beautiful legato phrases with a pleading fashion. The power and authority of her voice from the beginning evolved into a vulnerable and yearning one, the timbre thinning. It was matched through her acting as she threw herself to the ground begging her father.
In the second act, Turandot tortures Liu in order to find out Calaf’s name and in this act Stemme’s Turandot took on greater complexity. While she was torturing this woman, Stemme showed a weakness to her Turandot. This Turandot was now in love with Calaf and her constant glances towards him only made this more obvious. In the final duet Turandot falls into his ardent spell. Stemme sang each line with ecstasy and there was a vibrant color to her voice that showed a new tone to it. Her final lines “Conosco il nome dello straniero” rang through with so much power, but this was no longer the manipulative Turandot from the beginning; it was a woman dominated by passion.
In the role of Liu, Leah Crocetto dominated with her vocal powers. While she is not the most compelling of actresses, her voice truly shined. In her first aria “Signore Ascolta,” where Liu begs Calaf not to take on Turandot’s three riddles, Crocetto sang with a beautiful mezza voce caressing the lines. There was a tenderness to her singing but during the final “Pieta,” Crocetto crescendoed to a mezzo forte and this was the moment that Liu’s desperate cry was heard. In the second act when Liu is being tortured, Crocetto used all of her vocal power as she refused to say Calaf’s name. Here her voice gave a weight that showed Liu’s suffering and it rang with so much despair and fear.
In the role of Calaf Marco Berti sang with an ardent authority. His Calaf was a man that feared nothing and who was in command of every action. Berti’s voice enhanced this as he took every high C and B flat and sang it with full power. Berti interpolated a high C at the end of “In questa Reggia” in his lines “Una e la vita” and did the same in the lines “Ti Voglio ardente d’amor.” In the riddle scene, there was never a moment where one felt that this Calaf would ever be in danger. Instead each time he guessed a riddle, Berti sang each line with a ringing tone.
There were however some moments where Berti brought out a more lyrical tone. At the beginning of the concertante “Non Piangere Liu” Berti lightened his tone to bring out a different color to the voice. His “Nessun Dorma” was filled with sweeter colors and he sang connected phrases in a mezzo piano. As the aria progressed his sound continued to crescendo until his final “Vincero” which was triumphant and filled with so much passion. It rang through the house and the audience erupted in jubilant applause.
As Timur, Alexander Tsymbalyuk made the best of his small role. Timur has a big moment when Liu dies and Tsymbalyuk sang with gravitas. Here he poured so much emotion into the music as he cried for Liu’s dead body. Rounding out the cast Dwayne Croft, Tony Stevenson and Eduardo Valdes as the comic trio of Ping, Pong and Pang who continued their solid performances from the fall. Paolo Carignani was back in the pit and he conducted with vigor and delicacy bringing out of all Puccini’s unique "Asian" colors. Franco Zeffirelli’s production continues to be a favorite. When the curtain opened to the second act, audiences cheered for the lavish set.
Nina Stemme is back at the Met in the Spring for a new production of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra.” Her Turandot, however, is one for the ages and should not be missed.