The promotional logo for this weekend’s New Orleans Opera production of “Turandot” features a stylized image of a fire-breathing dragon. A widely recognizable symbol of ancient China, the mythical creature could also represent the opera’s title character, who fits the description of a “dragon lady.”
However, if the opera were to be given a subtitle, the best choice might be “Dragon Lady Meets Her Match.”
A Chinese princess, misguidedly seeking to avenge the abduction and murder of a long-ago female ancestor, has boldly declared that no man shall possess her and that suitors who fail to solve three riddles she poses to them will have their heads cut off.
Until a mysterious, unnamed prince — Calaf, the son of a deposed king of a conquered region — arrives to beat her at her own game of riddles, more than 20 royal suitors from all over the ancient world have paid the fatal price.
Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, which opened Friday evening with all of the glittering splendor of dynastic Peking, returns for a final performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Mahalia Jackson Theater. The opera is sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.
Alexandra Loutsion, in the title role, doesn’t make a singing appearance until the second act, but when she does, it comes in grand style. Outfitted in stunning regal apparel, she introduces herself with the aria “In questa reggia,” a ringing, impassioned recitation of the wrong done to her female ancestor and a reiteration of her vow to punish all men who seek to win her hand in marriage.
Loutsion consistently delivered a convincing performance of what is considered to be one of the most vocally challenging roles in the soprano repertoire.
As Calaf, David Pomeroy handled the heroic lead male role in the tradition of other great tenors who have sung the role since the opera’s 1926 premiere. His rendition of the widely familiar “Nessun dorma” aria, while not quite glass-shattering, was still impressive and deserving of the audience’s enthusiastic applause.
And, as often happens, a strong supporting character rose above the pack with both singing and acting abilities that elicited the audience’s sympathies. In this instance, it was soprano Raquel Gonzalez as the loyal slave girl Liu, who loves Calaf in vain and gives up her life for his. Like Micaela in “Carmen,” she knows the dangerous path her loved one is treading in pursuit of a seductive rival and unsuccessfully tries to steer him away from her. Gonzalez gave a tearfully stellar performance.
Filling the roles of the court officials Ping, Pang and Pong, Dennis Jesse, Casey Candebat and Chauncey Packer were playful in lending levity to an otherwise serious drama, yet deadly serious about trying to end the ice princess’ reign of terror.
As Calaf’s father, the deposed king Timur, Paul Whelan’s sonorous bass ably reflected his plight as a once-mighty monarch who has been reduced to beggar status.
As Turandot’s aged father, Emperor Altoum, Tony Bentley made the most of his limited role. Roy Fonenelle played the executioner, known as Pu-Tin-Pao.
Guiding an assemblage of close to 100 principals, adult and children’s chorus members, dancers and extras and moving them around the stage could not have been an easy task for a director, but veteran E. Loren Meeker handled it admirably.
The sets from the opera company’s scenic studio realistically depicted the streets and royal palace of ancient Peking, and the costumes lent a beautiful splash of color to the production. And, as always, the choruses, under the direction of Carol Rausch, sang magnificently.
The orchestra, conducted by Robert Lyall, was perfectly in sync with the action onstage, meeting the demands of a challenging score.
WHAT: an opera in three acts performed by the New Orleans Opera Association
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 1419 Basin St. (in Louis Armstrong Park), New Orleans
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Optional champagne brunches at 12:30 and 1:30.
TICKETS: $30-$230. Champagne brunch extra.
INFO: (504) 529-3000. neworleansopera.org