ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

20/09/2007 - 29/09/2007

Westpac St James, Wellington

13/10/2007 - 20/10/2007

Production Details

By Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, after Carlo Gozzi

Three riddles hold the key to love – or death

Puccini’s final work of genius – first performed two years after his death – is opera at its most telling and memorable. Against vivid and evocative music, tyranny and cruelty do battle with self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.

The icy Princess Turandot refuses to let any man have her. Princes seek her out, but she ensures their defeat by demanding that they answer three impossible riddles – on pain of death. All have failed and been executed, until a young foreign prince, smitten with her, makes his bid. A high-stakes battle of wits follows, with results both shocking and thrilling.

This groundbreaking production was conceived for Welsh National Opera by Christopher Alden, one of America’s foremost stage directors. His interpretation of Turandot, casting a penetrating eye on power and conformity, will take audiences on a remarkable emotional journey. The music of Turandot is full of pathos and magnificence – the beautiful Nessun dorma is only one of the many highlights. Leading a cast of top New Zealand and international singers, star soprano Margaret Medlyn makes her unmissable debut in the towering role of Princess Turandot.


AUCKLAND – Aotea Centre, The Edge®
Thu 20 Sep, Sat 22 Sep, Thu 27 Sep, Sat 29 Sep (7:30pm); Tue 25 Sep (1:00pm)

WELLINGTON – Westpac St James Theatre
Sat 13 Oct, Thu 18 Oct, Sat 20 Oct (7:30pm); Tue 16 Oct (6:00pm)

Single Ticket Prices: $49.50 to $159.50. Concessions available for senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: Ticketek outlets nationwide. Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or www.ticketek.co.nz. Bookings also at The NBR NZ Opera Box Office: Tel (09) 379 4068 or Tel (04) 499 8343.

Group Bookings: Opera for Groups offers great incentives for social or corporate groups, including a 10% discount on each ticket for groups of 10 or more people plus one ticket free for every 10 purchased. Call The NBR New Zealand Opera for more information 

The Opening Night performances of Turandot in Auckland and Wellington are gala charity nights in support of Genesis Oncology Trust. Tickets to these two performances are subject to a voluntary $10 donation with all proceeds going directly to the Trust.

Further information: www.nzopera.com 

Conductor . . . . . . . . . .Nicholas Braithwaite
Original Director . . . . Christopher Alden
Director . . . . . . . . . . . . Roy Rallo
Designer . . . . . . . . . . . Paul Steinberg
Lighting Designer . . . .Phillip Dexter
Assistant Director . . . .Steven Anthony Whiting


Princess Turandot. . . Margaret Medlyn
Calaf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dongwon Shin
Liù . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Maria Costanza Nocentini
Timur . . . . . . . . . . . . . Grant Dickson
Ping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Phillip Rhodes
Pang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adrian McEniery
Pong . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Benjamin Fifita Makisi
Emperor Altoum . . . . Terry Barry
Mandarin . . . . . . . . . . Malcolm Ede

With the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus

Accompanied by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Auckland), Vector Wellington Orchestra (Wellington) 

An opera in three acts
Sung in Italian with English surtitles

Opera ,

Transported by totalitarian state opera

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 22nd Sep 2007

While I have enjoyed many stand-alone operatic moments within classical concerts, I have attended only five full-length professional operas. However, even as a relative new comer to this rich genre, I know that when I experience that enviable combination of technical and musical excellence; matched by brave, relevant, creative direction, I am transported.

NBR New Zealand Opera’s opening night of Puccini’s final work, Turandot – the story of an icy Chinese princess who demands her suitors answer three impossible riddles on the pain of death – was for me, one of those rare experiences.

This production (including sets, props and costumes) was originally created for Welsh National Opera by American stage director Christopher Alden, and owes much of its success to Alden’s loaded symbolism and bold commentary on the effects that fear and forced compliance have on a society ruled by tyranny. While there is little room for subtlety, his direction does not compromise the emotion and central journey of Turandot. 

The current production’s creative team, in particular director Roy Rallo and lighting designer Phillip Dexter, successfully embrace Alden’s vision.

The set is striking, depicting a totalitarian state: a fortress-like corrugated iron wall frames the stage and the floor leans heavily to the right. In Act 1, a disturbing photographic display quantifies Turandot’s despotic oath. In Act 2, the same decree is illustrated by an enormous blood red banner, which hangs over a Gestapo-like head quarters. In Puccini’s Turandot, executions become entertainment for the fickle masses. Alden’s creative team illustrates this dramatically, as the banner is dropped to reveal the full chorus looking down on Calaf as he prepares for Turandot’s riddles, like Romans in The Coliseum, waiting eagerly for their next amusement.

The Chorus’s cloned costumes (tailored, prim, proper black and white uniforms) and homogenous hair (each man with a Leninist beard and each woman with a short sharp black bob) is a triumph. Reflective of Turandot’s oppressive hold on the kingdom, all are one and there is no tolerance of individuality or human rights from every day men and women. At one point the women enter like zombies, on command, as Turandot’s men attempt to distract Calaf by offering the women as physical temptation. By contrast, these same officials, Ping, Pang and Pong, safe in their privileged position, look like a luminescent flamboyant tribute to Dick Tracy.

Throughout the opera, Alden maximizes every opportunity given by Puccini for these three civil servants to act as vehicles for comic relief. In Act 2, in a hugely entertaining segment reminiscent of Gliding On, bureaucracy goes mad as the trio lament the loss of happier times, during their daily paper-push, rubber-stamping and dart-making. In an inspired moment, while in full voice, all three also excel as percussionists, using their typewriters.

Phillip Rhodes (Ping), Adrian McEniery (Pang) and Benjamin Fifita Makisi (Pong) are perfectly cast and their ensemble work is hugely watchable. The stand out is Rhodes, whose vocal command and charisma fills the stage and auditorium effortlessly. Unfortunately more than one scene by this dynamic trio is let down by insufficient lighting. Presumably poor Ping was left in the dark for so long because of an untimely blown bulb rather than operator error.

Other than this trifle, Dexter’s design is excellent, in particular his bold use of the chorus’s white shirts as an open canvas. At one point the shirts absorb blue and white light to evoke an icy moonlight night.

As Princess Turandot, Margaret Medlyn is strikingly intense, both in appearance and voice. The depth of her performance, as Calaf solves her three riddles, is riveting. She portrays Turandot with just the right balance of theatricality, emotion and intelligence.

As Calaf, Dongwon Shin Liu not only sings an expressive, passionate ‘nessun dorma’, he brings both those qualities to his whole performance.

Although Maria Costanza Nocentini, who plays Liu, is slight in stature, she is mighty in vocal delivery and expression. Her scenes with Timur (touchingly played by Grant Dickson), are particularly moving and her ‘Signore, ascolta!’ is exquisite.

Terry Barry, as the Emperor, is vocally clear and strong in the recitative-like passages at the top of Calaf’s trial. By contrast, his frail physicality denotes he is deflated and weary of the unrelenting behaviour from Turandot.

Malcolm Ede as the Mandarin had some pitch issues in Act 1, but was more relaxed and effective when he reappeared later in the evening.

Both the Auckland Philharmonia under Nicholas Braithwaite and The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus, with Chorus Master John Rosser, are uniformly impressive, both technically and musically.

The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus is almost constantly moving and, through simple choreography and gesture, they suggest the "mood of the mob", like a Greek chorus. While the pressure of such detailed blocking occasional resulted in a couple of ragged entries in Act 1, the overall affect of using the company in such a dynamic way meant these glitches dissolved into the tapestry of their performance.


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