Turandot | Opera AustraliaOpera Australia's current production of Puccini's last opera Turandot is a spectacular tour-de-force that should not be missed. From the first notes to the last, the show carries you on a wave of auditory and visual excitement and never fails to impress with its subtle yet sophisticated stage and lighting design. Boasting a massive fire breathing dragon and a sixteen metre high tower where the ice princess Turandot resides, director Chen Shi-Zheng uses Chinese elements and traditional dance to give authenticity and style to this production.

Act 1 opens spectacularly with the Mandarin (Gennadi Dubinski) carried by a crane and floating ghost like above the stage where he announces the law of the land: the Prince of Persia is to be beheaded at the next moon rising for failing to answer Turandot's three riddles. CalafRiccardo Massi – catches a glimpse of Turandot whose beautiful image is projected onto her tower (we do not see the real Turandot until later on) and he falls immediately and dangerously in love with her in spite of the protestations of his father and the slave girl Liu (Hyeseoung Kwon). Calaf rings the gong and declares his intentions to the princess: game on.

The music of the first act rolls like a tidal wave against the night air and the orchestra and chorus (conducted by Brian Castles-Onion) is nothing less than brilliant. The accompanying sword dancing is a spectacle that adds weight to the frenzied blood lust of the crowd and the music propels us ever forward to the inevitable and gruesome outcome for the unfortunate prince. The lighting design skilfully supports the flow of the music and the projection of images against the back wall of the set creates a myriad of moods and ideas with precision and simplicity. I particularly enjoyed the lighting and projections during the 'Moon Chorus' and also Calaf's delivery of the three riddles: orange/green for 'hope', red for 'blood' and white for Turandot.

Riccardo Massi as Calaf possesses a vibrant and warm tenor tone that rings out with confidence and clarity. His three emotional outbursts of the name 'Turandot, Turandot, Turandot' sung just before the ringing of the gong and followed by a blast of fiery breath from the dragon was received with amazement and delight by the enamoured audience. Massi is a singer whose vocal assuredness and pleasing stage presence puts you immediately at ease and his rendition of 'Nessun Dorma' in Act 2 was a stunning show stopper followed by an explosion of fireworks.

Dragana Radakovic as Turandot makes a thoroughly convincing ice queen and her steely vocal quality cuts through the night like the blade of the executioners knife. First revealed to us from the lofty heights of her tower wearing a beautiful shimmering gown, it is difficult not to think of Elsa from 'Frozen' when we first see Turandot standing above her realm in all her icy magnificence. Radakovic successfully transitions her character from ice queen to a woman touched by love for the first time and it is a testament to her interpretation of the character and the quality of the production as a whole that we are able to empathize with this blood thirsty woman.

Hyeseoung Kwon is lovely as the slave girl Liu and whilst her voice is large, it maintains enough lyricism and dynamic nuance to portray the innocence and vulnerability of the character. Kwon's singing and acting is authentic and the audience clearly appreciated her heartfelt interpretation of the role.

With a tenor voice befitting of his character, David Lewis sings the role of the Emperor. Hung well above the stage and perched precariously upon a massive throne, Lewis commands a sagacious and omniscient stage presence.

Ping (Luke Gabbidy), Pang (Benjamin Rasheed) and Pong (John Longmuir) are a nifty and nimble, well-oiled vocal trio whose comments on the action throughout the performance are the voice of reason amidst the madness. Their vocal banter was beautifully sung and well timed, and they mastered the busy choreography with apparent ease. Conal Coad makes a convincing Timur and his singing is stylish and musical – I particularly enjoyed his little skip downstage to take his bow.

This production is a huge endeavour, brought lovingly to life by so many talented and passionate people. The success of the production is a testament to the vision of its creators and of course to the magnificent score that Puccini has left us. Everything works well: the singing and orchestral playing is top-notch, the set and lighting design is inspired, the costumes are beautiful, and of course Puccini's magnificent score performed against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour is one of life's great gifts – not to be missed.

Opera Australia presents

Director Chen Shi-Zheng

Venue: Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point NSW
Dates: March 24 – April 24, 2016
Bookings: opera.org.au

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