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Pittsburgh Opera premiering ‘Turandot’

March 24, 2011
The Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Opera premieres a never-before-seen production of Puccini's opera "Turandot" in four performances Saturday through April 3 at the Benedum Center.

Pittsburgh Opera's "Turandot" showcases production elements by the French-Canadian production team Renaud Doucet and Andre Barbe. Featuring the arias "Nessun Dorma" and "In Questa Reggia," Music Director Antony Walker conducts, returning to the U.S. after conducting "The Barber of Seville" at the Sydney Opera House.

The story of "Turandot," with origins in ancient Asian lore, is centered on the titular icy princess, who poses impossible riddles to her noble suitors and then cruelly beheads them when they guess the answers incorrectly. A long-lost prince answers her questions and wins her heart.

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Calaf, the former prince of Tartary, is in a crowd surrounding the Imperial Palace, where Princess Turandot orders the execution of her latest suitor.

After a reunion with his father, the deposed king Timur, he is smitten by Turandot's great beauty. Despite warnings, Calaf runs to the gong to signal he wants to compete for Turandot's hand.

Turandot warns Calaf not to continue the quest, but he answers the riddles and she is bound to the marriage. However, Calaf says if Turandot can guess his name by sunrise, he will be subject to her order of death. Meanwhile, Timur and his servant Liu, seen talking to Calaf, are dragged before Turandot, but Liu refuses to reveal Calaf's name despite torture and commits suicide to protect his identity.

Calaf and Turandot are left alone, and he reproaches her for her cruelty, but kisses her. She returns the kiss, and Calaf tells her his name, placing his life in her hands. At sunrise, they approach the Emperor's throne and she announces she knows the Prince's name, and it is "Love."

The leading roles in "Turandot" are sung by Susan Neves and Frank Porretta as Turandot and Calaf, respectively. Celebrated Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian returns as Timur, with former resident artist NaGuanda Nobles as Liu. The Emperor's ministers Ping, Pang and Pong will be sung by former resident artist Craig Verm, current resident artist James Flora and Joseph Gaines, respectively.

Turandot's production team includes director/choreographer Renaud Doucet and set/costume designer Andre Barbe.

"Renaud and Andre have honored the larger-than-life scale of the opera itself, and have brought highly wrought detail to the costumes, movement and presentation," said Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn. "Everything is conceived at the same time, and their productions are rich with color and imagination."

Pittsburgh Opera's production will include "assistants" shadowing Ping, Pang and Pong, and handing them props, evoking Kabuki theater technique. The Executioner, a non-singing role traditionally filled by a man, will be a woman, suggesting Turandot's imagined inner world.

A set of 13 tuned gongs commissioned by Puccini himself for the premiere of "Turandot" will be used in Pittsburgh Opera's performances. Although Puccini died before the premiere, the gongs, made by the Tronci family, were part of that first performance. The gongs are from the collection of Howard Van Hyning, longtime percussionist for New York City Opera and collector of vintage percussion instruments.

"Turandot" is Puccini's final opera. He completed all except the ending, which was left unfinished when he died of throat cancer in November 1924. At its premiere in April 1926 at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, the opera was performed without the ending, and conductor Arturo Toscanini announced that "Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died." The opera's ending was subject to many opinions, both musical and contextual, but it was eventually completed by Puccini's associate Franco Alfano, and was added to subsequent performances.

Attack Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera's frequent artistic collaborator, is already at work with Doucet and children from Pittsburgh Chinese School and the Children's Festival Chorus add to the extensive cast.

Tickets to "Turandot" start at $10 with all performances at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, located at 7th Street and Penn Avenue.

For information or to purchase tickets, call (412) 456-6666 or visit

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