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Subject: SF "Turandot"
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 3 Dec 2017 22:30:02 -0800
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I had the great pleasure of bringing some friends, two of whom were total newbies to opera, to a performance of “Turandot” in San Francisco today, for which all of the elements fell into place and we had a splendid performance.

The conductor was Christopher Franklin, taking over this later run of the opera (the season opened with “Turandot” with a different cast) after Nicola Luisotti bid farewell to his music director post here. Franklin was clear, clean and extremely competent in his coordination of the huge forces involved.

Brian Jagde, who looks like a college fullback with a ridiculously handsome face, has developed real clarion power and, combined with his ease and naturalness on stage, gave us a muscular, virile Calaf who may not have been the most subtle, but who hit the role home. Leah Crocetto, whose bulky physique and little girl victim acting had troubled me greatly as Luisa Miller and Aida, was unrecognizably better as Liu. She gave a strong and vital portrayal and sang out with a full lyric-spinto. In the past, her attempts at floated high notes had been somewhat tremulous and insecure. Today they were Milanov like, floating on a solid cushion of support and hovering in the air even after she had stopped singing. Her forte outbursts were thrilling - a real Aida voice as Liu isn’t something we get that often. She also moved much better and more convincingly on stage than I had seen before. 

I really liked the beauty and power of Soloman Howard’s singing and Timur. Also, among the excellent Ping, Pang and Pong there was the exceptionally beautiful and clear baritone of Joo Won Kong. Robert Brubaker, who gave us an unusually strong and powerful Aegisth in “Elektra” earlier this season, did the same for Emperor Altoum.

Then there was Nina Stemme as Turandot. There are two Nina Stemmes: the quavery, unbeautiful one I almost always hear on anything conveyed via a microphone (studio recording or Met in HD or other broadcast) and the one I love, whom I’ve always heard and seen live in the house. Part of it is the power and engagement of her physical presence. The other part is the voice itself which always sounds to me clear, marble-like the solid live, sometimes remarkably pure when pouring out high decibel sound and when nailing high Cs dead center. Somehow, that evades the microphone.

So, in the house and, as it happened, sitting very close up (row A center orchestra), I thought she was magnificent. The sounds weren’t always fluid or easy, but they were strong, powerful and solid. She has a way of planting herself, mouth dropping down to her chest, and sending a high B or C soaring into the house like a ballistic missile.She benefitted from the creme de menthe gown against the striking crimson and indigo backdrops in this stunningly beautiful David Hockney production.

She’s also an exceptional actress and we got a real interpretation. We saw fear as well as power and menace in her “in quests reggia” and riddle scene, the ambiguity of her being terrified Calaf would win but also sadness if he wouldn’t, and that Liu managed to shake her to the core. Liu’s apostrophe to love devastated her and Liu’s suicide horrified her. She retreated upstage but, her back to the audience, she looked as if she’d been stabbed in the back when Timur cried that Liu’s spirit would seek vengeance.

Where she really surprised me was her ability to take on lightness and warmth and a beautiful smile as she yielded to Calaf in the scene leading to her “il primo pianto.” She was actually convincing - something I’ve found very few Turandots genuinely able to pull off.

At the end of the performance and curtain calls, there was a little celebration as David Hockney was brought onstage and, for his contributions to SF Opera productions over the last 30+ years, the SF Opera Gold Medal, the company’s highest honor. 

It was a great afternoon and my friends were bowled over.

Max Paley
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