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"Turandot" honours Puccini's centenary at Teatro Colón

The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires decided to join the tributes to Giacomo Puccini on the centenary of his death with "Turandot" in a majestic production staged previously in 1993, 2006, and 2019, featuring set design by Roberto Oswald. On this occasion, the production was conducted by Carlos Vieu for four performances and by Beatrice Venezi for the remaining five.

Puccini's death left "Turandot" unfinished. Based on the Persian poetic work "The Seven Beauties" by Nezamí Ganyaví, it tackles a deeply challenging problem: its ending.

The opera sharply shifts from a desire for mass execution to a readiness for love, most notably evident in the complex psychological portrait of Turandot, especially in the aria "In questa reggia", where each bar reveals a different side of her character: her fears and desires, her determination to defend her royal position despite her inner turmoil. Eventually, the magic of the tale seems to resolve her transformation. Liu's sacrifice for love catalyses Turandot's change, suggesting Puccini's belief in love's transformative power.

At the end of 1922, Puccini's worsening health due to throat problems heavily influenced the composition of "Turandot", which was marked by episodes of passionate inspiration and deep depression. In a poignant moment, Puccini imagined that the opera would be incomplete and that someone would come on stage to announce his death. He sought treatment in Belgium, but died on November 29, 1924, leaving drafts of the love duet and the third act in his room.

Arturo Toscanini, entrusted by Puccini with the premiere of "Turandot", later gave Franco Alfano the task of finishing the opera using the composer's notes. At the premiere at Milan's Teatro alla Scala, after Liu's death on stage, Toscanini informed the audience that Puccini had stopped composing at that very moment, echoing one of the composer's last musings.

That is how the premiere came to an end. It was not until the next performance that the Milanese audience would experience Alfano's complete Finale.

"Turandot" premiered in Buenos Aires two months after its world debut, on June 25, 1926, at the Teatro Colón. The opera would revisit the stage numerous times, notably in 1949, when Maria Callas made her Buenos Aires debut. This season marked her only appearances in Argentina, where she also performed in "Norma" and "Aida".

Beatrice Venezi's Historic Colón Debut

"All of Puccini's works refer to the human condition. I am deeply moved by the people's reaction in "Turandot", which is the chorus, assuming prominence and weight unlike in previous works. It's a genuine character, akin to Greek tragedy. And it also represents the voice of our society: suddenly they want to kill someone and then the opposite. I believe that the chorus, more than Calaf and Turandot themselves, tells us a lot about ourselves, about our society."

Venezi, who has become the first woman to direct at Teatro Colón, stated in an interview with Clarín: "As a woman, you have to prove that you are prepared three hundred times more than a male colleague. I live with that very calmly and think that I am working for the generations to come".

"To make my debut in this magnificent theater on the centenary of Puccini's death is a dream come true for me," she added. "Everyone talks about the acoustics of the Colón, but honestly I didn't expect it to be so. It is truly something unique."

Cast: Vocal Power and Dramatic Conviction

Mónica Ferracani assumed the role of Turandot, replacing Anastasia Boldyreva at the last moment, looking appropriate in her vocal performance and characterising the cruel princess with convincing dramatic resources considering that this role leaves little room for subtlety.

The tenor Jorge Puerta was Calaf, with splendid performance and a powerful voice for the Colón's hall. Marina Silva's portrayal of Liu was met with applause, characterized by emotional precision in her two arias. The trio of Sebastián Angulegui, Iván Maier, and Sergio Spina shone intensely in their roles as the sarcastic Ping, Pang, and Pong. Christian Peregrino portrayed Timur with great vocal assurance.

The Stable Choir and the Children's Choir provided the appropriate musical framework, adding depth and emotion to the opera's performance.

Racial stereotypes

Racial stereotypes are present in "Turandot" not only from the perspective of audiences born or raised in China. Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Opera in New York added a warning noting that the 1926 opera "includes contradictions, distortions, and racial stereotypes."

It is essential to address these negative aspects. With each new production, there should be a conscious effort to acknowledge and discuss these issues. This involves reflection and dialogue about the implications of these representations, rather than simply enjoying the work without questioning its problematic sides. This more critical and conscious approach will help audiences understand "Turandot" as the masterpiece it is, in all its complexity, appreciating both its artistic achievements and recognizing its limitations and flaws.

Text: Nerea Menor


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