Puccini’s final work plays four performances at the Lesher Center for the Arts beginning July 11th
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
When the curtain rises on Saturday, July 11th, for Festival Opera’s Turandot, the occasion will mark more than just the beginning of another season. Two years in the making, this particular production will be both the largest and most lavish in the company’s 18-year history – as well as the first Turandot since San Francisco Opera’s production in 2002. Set in the opulence of ancient Peking, Turandot is a riveting tale of the power of love over fear and terror. Princess Turandot is secretly afraid of men, so to avoid marriage she has created three riddles which each of her suitors must solve. So far, all have perished in the attempt. When Prince Calaf, the son of a deposed king and unbeknownst to Turandot, unexpectedly succeeds, she refuses to marry him and surrender her chastity. Undaunted, he poses a riddle of his own. If Turdandot can uncover his identity by dawn, he will gladly forfeit his life to release her from her vow.
TURANDOT – At Festival Opera, July 11th—19th
The role of Turandot will be sung by acclaimed Canadian soprano Othalie Graham, who made her Bay Area debut in 2006 at Festival Opera in the title role of Tosca. “Turandot is a very difficult role to cast,” says executive director Helen Sheaff. “Most sopranos under 40 just don’t have the voice for it yet. Othalie is probably going to be the up and coming Turandot in the United States in the next few years.” The production will feature such other noted performers as lyric tenor Christopher Jackson as Prince Calaf; soprano Rebecca Sjöwall as the slave Liù; and bass Kirk Eichelberger as Timur, the vanquished king. Turandot will be conducted by Bryan Nies and directed by David Cox. Set design is by Peter Crompton.
OTHALIE GRAHAM – as Puccini’s “Turandot”
Puccini was already ill when he began the opera, five years before his death. The unenviable task of determining how to finish the master’s work fell to Arturo Toscanini, who had been working with Puccini and was to conduct the debut performance. Franco Alfano, a colleague of Puccini’s, was chosen to write the final 200 measures and labored over it for six months. Perhaps finishing such a major work was as great a challenge as one of Turandot’s own riddles; despite Alfano’s hard work, Toscanini was dissatisfied and after the first production he never conducted the opera again.
GIACOMO PUCCINI and ARTURO TOSCANINI
“It’s the biggest thing Festival Opera has ever done,” says director David Cox, who previously helmed Un ballo in maschera in 2005 and Rigoletto in 2004 for the company. “It’s just a huge opera, and a very difficult piece to pull off.” Indeed, for a regional company that operates on an annual budget of less than $800,000 and a full-time staff of one, Turandot could be considered a massive undertaking. Among other things, a national search for the principal roles had to be conducted – through which they found tenor Christopher Jackson for Calaf in New York and soprano Rebecca Sjöwall for the role of Liù in southern California. The all-volunteer Festival Opera Chorus, a crucial feature to both productions this season, had to be expanded to 75 (including 15 preteens), requiring a round of extra auditions, along with an intensive twice-weekly rehearsal schedule that began in January. To integrate so many additional bodies into the onstage action, the production brought in choreographer Mark Foehringer to collaborate with stage director David Cox, as he did so successfully last season with stage director Michael Morgan on A Midsummer Night’s Dream . The need for more than 80 costumes could have quickly swamped Festival Opera’s wardrobe department – the costumes were acquired through one of the world’s premiere houses, Malabar in Montreal. The extra cost of Peter Crompton’s superb sets was defrayed through an arrangement with Opera Birmingham in Alabama – which utilized them in their own production last January. And as the project progressed, so did the recession. “When we started on Turandot, “the Dow was at 13,000,” says Executive Director Helen Sheaff with a laugh.
With Puccini’s sweeping music, a stellar cast, and spectacular sets, the stage is set for Bay Area music lovers to feast on the wonders of opera at its best. For more information: TURANDOT @ FESTIVAL OPERA
Add these recordings of Puccini’s Turandot to your Classical Library:
TURANDOT – Leopold Stokowski conducts this live recording from March 4, 1961, featuring Birgit Nilsson, Franco Corelli, and Anna Moffo.
TURANDOT – Zubin Mehta conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Tom Krause, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Peter Pears.
Download Carmen Milagro’s BlogTalkRadio interview with Seán Martinfield and jazz composer/pianist Terry Disley: Women and Legends Who Really Rock, 6/12/2009
See related articles and interviews:
LA TRAVIATA – Now At San Francisco Opera With Anna Netrebko
MAKING THE BOYS – Frameline 33 Presents Documentary On the Making of THE BOYS IN THE BAND (1970)
DIANE BAKER – Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
SF INTERNATIONAL LGBT FILM FESTIVAL – OPENS AT THE CASTRO THEATRE
TOSCA – TONIGHT AT SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
SF BALLET TO TOUR CHINA – Programs Include Tommason’s SWAN LAKE
LINDA BLAIR – With Peaches Christ, A Debut At Midnight Mass
LORDS OF THE SAMURAI – Now At The Asian Art Museum
MEKLIT HADERO and TODD BROWN – At The de Young Museum
JONATHAN VINOCOUR – San Francisco Symphony Appoints New Principal Violist
AMANDA KING – At The Rrazz Room
RENT: THE BROADWAY TOUR – Returns To The Curran Theatre
WESLA WHITFIELD – At The Rrazz Room
SPAMALOT – THE “MONTY PYTHON” MUSICAL THAT GOES LIKE THIS
UP – IS UP UP UP AND AWAY!
CAMERON CARPENTER – Up Close and Very Personal
HEIDI MELTON REPLACES PATRICIA RACETTE – The Verdi Requiem, at San Francisco Opera l
DANCING WITH THE DRAG QUEEN STARS – June 6th At CHERYL BURKE DANCE
INTERHARMONY INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL – June 30th to July 12th
DONALD RUNNICLES and CHRISTINE BREWER – CD, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA – Summer Season Opens June 2nd
TOSCA – SF Giants and SF Opera Present OPERA AT THE BALLPARK
2830 PACIFIC STREET – Site of 2009 San Francisco Decorator Showcase
CELEBRATE THE 1906 EARTHQUAKE –”SAN FRANCISCO”– At The Castro Theatre
THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM PRESENTS – Chagall And The Artists Of The Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949
RUBEN MARTIN – Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet
KING TUT – Returns to the de Young Museum
SCOTT NEVINS – At the Rrazz Room, San Francisco
KEELY SMITH – Making Magic at the Rrazz Room Through April 5th
ACT A LADY – Opens Saturday Night At The New Conservatory Theatre
HÉLÈNE RENAUT – Local Recording Artist Tonight At The Adobe Book Shop
CD – BRUCKNER’S 5TH SYMPHONY – NEW RELEASE FROM TELARC
CD Release – ANCIENT FUTURE Recordings Observes 30th Anniversary
WICKED – Now at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre
SAN FRANCISCO BOYS CHORUS – WILL SING AT THE INAUGURATION OF BARACK OBAMA
BRIAN PATTERSON – Local Hunk In Bay Area Premiere of ZANNA, DON’T
MILK – A Magnificent Film
CHRISTINE ANDREAS – A Conversation with Beautiful Broadway and Cabaret Star
CD Review – REVOLUTIONARY, Cameron Carpenter, Organist
CD – BRAHMS: Ein Deutsches Requiem
CD – DAS LIED VON DER ERDE: Superb Live Recording by Stuart Skelton and Thomas Hampson
JENNIFER SIEBEL – A Conversation with Seán Martinfield
A CONVERSATION WITH MAESTRO HELMUTH RILLING
ANITA COCKTAIL and LEANNE BORGHESI – A 3-Way Dialogue
NORMA SHEARER in “MARIE ANTOINETTE” – At the Legion of Honor
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.