"Dazzling" version of Turandot a unique spectacle
Grand Opera House, Friday October 30
Daring, dazzling and dynamic, Giacomo Puccini's divisive final creation Turandot finds a new lease of life in the hands of visionary director Calixto Bieito, often thought of as an enfant terrible of European opera. The show's opening night (its UK and Ireland premiere) marks the culmination of a collaboration between the State Theatre of Nuremberg, the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, and Northern Ireland Opera. The latter organisation has gone from strength to strength over the past few years - flourishing under the artistic direction of Oliver Mears - and this latest production not only matches but surpasses the heights scaled by recent productions of Macbeth and Salome.
Turandot, like each of these shows, refreshingly refuses its audience concessions in its attempt to reimagine as strikingly as possible Puccini's original. Viewers are challenged by Bieito's radical take on a familiar narrative: the director effectively teases out the opera's political resonances (a debt to Orwell is suggested by the factory setting and the gargantuan, projected face which stares out from the backdrop).
Early in the show, red lanterns rise and fall like warning beacons (this Turandot is an aesthetic, as well as an aural feast), and as the story's arc progresses, Bieito doesn't shy away from graphically depicting a campaign of mounting violence against Neal Cooper's well-realised Calaf. Miriam Murphy excels in the title role as a convincingly repulsive construction, finding a dramatic foil in Anna Patalong's self-sacrificial Liù.
Yet the true strength of this production lies in the interplay between all those involved - from the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by David Brophy, who tackles the score with aplomb, to the sizeable chorus, which includes more than eighty singers. Ultimately, Northern Ireland Opera's arresting new version of this canonical work is testament to the company's abundance of artistic talent - brave and bold, it is an utterly unique spectacle.