Opera Scotland

Turandot 1984Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Turandot

Scottish Opera's 1983/84 season at the Theatre Royal opened with a new Death in Venice, followed before Christmas by Idomeneo (also new), and revivals of The Golden Cockerel and Hansel and Gretel. In the New Year, the season continued with revivals of L'elisir d'amore, La bohème and L'Egisto, before a final new production, Turandot, opened. There was also a short tour of the medium-scale theatres with a double bill of early one-act farces by Rossini, The Marriage Contract and The Silken Ladder. The autumn saw a further handful of performances of the recent Jonathan Miller Magic Flute, while the second half of December featured a two-week run of a musical, My Fair Lady.

The opening night of Scottish Opera's first staging of Turandot constituted the 2000th performance by the company, and a great Turandot of the past, Dame Eva Turner, was invited to attend.

In the event, the whole production turned out to be one of those scandals without which the operatic world would threaten to become very dull. The director's concept derived from an episode in the life of Puccini and his wife at their home in Torre del Lago, when Elvira became furiously jealous of a young housemaid, Doria Manfredi, and accused her of having an affair with the composer. After the girl's suicide her innocence was established, and Signora Puccini was subjected to a great deal of public opprobrium (and a prison sentence when the girl's parents successfully sued for defamation). Tony Palmer, an extremely experienced and talented director of numerous films and documentaries on musical subjects, chose this event as the basis for his film about Puccini commissioned by the South Bank Show.

So far so good. The director had the further idea that Puccini's final operatic project, Turandot, was indelibly mixed up with the emotional turmoil the composer had felt a dozen years before. It was proposed that this in itself explained the enormous difficulties the composer experienced during the composition, and perhaps why he found it impossible to finish it. The film, which was televised and later issued on DVD, showed brief extracts from the staging, which explained the purpose of elements which had not worked in the theatre, without making the case for the theory in any way conclusive.

The staging itself was fraught with difficulties. Musically it was fine, but the dramatic effect was patchy. Calaf/Puccini, was dressed in tweeds as if ready to go out in his punt to take part in his favourite hobby of slaughtering the local duck population. Liù/Doria, in a little black dress with white pinafore and cap, occupied with him a small stage front left, perhaps the composer's study. Elvira/Turandot, in a white wedding gown, spent most of the performance on a pedestal to their right, even more inert than in most conventional productions. The roles of Timur and the mask trio, usually so important, had little to do and seemed dramatically irrelevant, even though beautifully sung.

Alexander Gibson, a great Puccini conductor, had not attempted Turandot before, and would not again - a great pity, since the results were excellent. The musical text was controversial, at least on opening night. A decision had been taken to reject the usual ending - the completion prepared by Alfano, as edited and abbreviated by Toscanini. The original idea was simply to end, as Puccini did, with Liù's death. However the publisher Ricordi demurred, and on opening night the conventional ending followed after a fifteen minute interval, in concert form, with Alexander Morrison singing Calaf. At later performances the conventional ending was performed in the customary manner.

Ludmilla Andrew came in as a late replacement for Linda Esther Gray, and sang very well in what must have been one of her last dramatic soprano roles before she switched to character parts. She was not required to learn much in the way of stage movement. There was no weak link in the rest of the cast. Marie Slorach gave a beautifully judged and subtle performance as Liù. Eduardo Alvares, an extremely versatile Brazilian, made a very positive impression as a more than usually sympathetic Calaf. Willard White managed to make Timur into a moving figure, in spite of performing in a vacuum.

Performance Cast

Mandarin

Norman White

Liù a slave girl

Marie Slorach

Calaf son of Timur - the 'Unknown Prince'

Eduardo Alvares

Timur exiled King of Tartary

Willard White

Prince of Persia

Alexander Morrison

Princess Turandot daughter of Altoum

Milla Andrew

Ping Grand Chancellor

Alan Oke (Exc May 2, 5)

James Paterson (May 2, 5)

Pang Grand Purveyor

Hugh Hetherington

Pong Grand Cook

Gordon Christie (Exc Apr 28; May 2)

Declan McCusker (Apr 28; May 19)

Emperor Altoum

John Robertson

Performance DatesTurandot 1984

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

18 Apr, 19.15 21 Apr, 14.15 24 Apr, 19.15 26 Apr, 19.15 28 Apr, 19.15

Empire Theatre, Liverpool | Liverpool

2 May, 19.15 5 May, 19.15

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

9 May, 19.15 11 May, 19.15

Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

16 May, 19.15 19 May, 19.15

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