St James Theatre
October 13-20 | Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

THIS IS my second opera of 2007 and I have only been to a handful in my life so far, so forgive this neophyte’s attempt at reviewing the recent NBR New Zealand Opera production of Puccini’s final opera, Turandot.

As with the production earlier this year of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor the local players (the Chapman Tripp Chorus and Vector Wellington Orchestra) played perfect support. The music would swell and then dip in around the stunning voices – but standing proud in the title role was Margaret Medlyn, an English-born singer/performer with Kiwi connections (she graduated with a B Mus in singing from the University Of Auckland). Turandot is one of Puccini’s most celebrated works – his literal swansong – and the titular role is one of opera’s most demanding for the main star. Medlyn carries herself through the production with poise and grace, able to easily duck in to moments of light comic relief and then brace herself for the bumpy, dramatic ride.

Of course the one thing many people will know about Turandot is that it is the opera for which Puccini wrote Nessun Dorma. With the passing of Pavarotti still a very recent memory it is hard not to hear this piece and think of him – but it is wonderful to hear it contextualised, performed as a part of a whole, a mere cog. Still beautiful, still powerful, still important – but also simply part of the show.

The vibrant costumes, the striking set, the choreography of it all – opera is theatre every bit as much as it is music. And this three-act show tells the tale of love conquering, of a strict regime being countered by a willingness, a need to love. It is perhaps perversely fitting that Puccini gave his all to this work, poured his heart in to the music and died before completing it – of a heart attack. He could not give any more of himself to the work. But Franco Alfano, an Italian opera composer, stepped in at the bequest of Toscanini and finished the piece, completing the final love duet.

The tale of the composition of Turandot figures highly in how audiences continue to be emotionally captivated. And this strong production had the audience gripped from the very beginning – literally a visual, aural feast – a symphony of delights.

I may have arrived at opera a lot later than others, and with only the vaguest knowledge of the form and the work, but the two productions I have seen this year have both been impossible to criticise – sumptuously detailed, gorgeously evoking, never buckling under the emotional weight. Turandot and Lucia de Lammermoor have both been amazing productions – showcasing talented local and international artists. I look forward to the 2008 season already.