I was privileged to attend Turandot at the Hollywood Bowl last night. I love the Bowl. I never tire of attending concerts there, and I wish I lived closer (and money grew on trees) so I could go more often. Although I really do need to remember that it gets cold there after dark, no matter how hot the day, and bring a warmer jacket next time!
Puccini's Turandot is one of my favorite operas by any composer. It has such beautiful, stirring, noble music -- particularly the main theme. Whenever that theme swells and the chorus comes in, I get goosebumps or teary-eyed or both. Last night was a constant state of both! The first act was so beautiful, so perfect, that I nearly cried through the whole thing. It's very rare to get a performance that measures up to a recording, but that first act was outstanding. The singers, chorus, children's chorus, the orchestra, the tempos... it was exactly how I want to hear my Turandot. The tenor, Frank Porretta (who turned out to be a sub, and thank God, as he was phenomenal), and the soprano singing Liu (Hei-Kyung Hong) were in fabulous voice, and I could have listened to them all night. I'd love to have that first act on CD.
Alas, in the second act, Turandot finally shows up, and the opera had its only downside. At least in this performance, the soprano, Christine Brewer, could not hit the high notes. (I read in a review that she has sung the big aria in concert and did fine, so I'm prepared to cut her some slack... the Bowl is outdoors, chilly, and is probably a tough place to sing an opera for the first time, particularly the role of Turandot which is a toughie.) It's too bad, as she had a really nice voice when she sang lower and softer. She reminded me a bit of Marilyn Horne, if Horne had been a soprano. Similar quality. But when Brewer should have soared, she... well, she kind of yelled her highest notes (very bizarre) and then slid/scooped back down to the next note she could hit. It was rather like watching a minor train wreck. Fortunately, the really high stuff is only in the second act, and she didn't have to stretch too much in the third, so there was no more cringing, just pure enjoyment.
And even those disastrous high notes weren't enough to dampen the evening or the opera. I had a great time. I'm very impressed with Gustavo Dudamel's conducting -- he hit everything just right. The right tempo's a big deal when that main theme kicks in in Turandot. Too slow it can be ponderous, too fast and it loses impact. Dudamel conducted it beautifully the whole evening. There wasn't one thing I would have asked for differently (well, besides Turandot actually hitting her highest notes, and I'm hoping she just suffered an off night).
And I'm looking forward to Frank Porretta performing again in the LA area, as I will definitely go see whatever he's in. Good tenors are, unfortunately, a rarity these days.
Man, I do so love opera. My first and truest love!