A bracing Turandot with Alfano’s extended completion for the
first time on disc.
Antonio Pappano’s traversal on disc
of Puccini’s mature operas continues with a bracing account of
Turandot that uniquely includes the original, extended version
(before Toscanini’s meddling truncation) of the ending appended
after the composer’s death by Franco Alfano.
itself with an orchestral and choral punch that brings the
opera’s unsettling emotional candour and cruelty to the fore, it
is a remarkable account, not least given that Pappano had never
conducted the work before (he made his live debut with it at
London’s Royal Opera House in March this year) and for having
been recorded under COVID-imposed constraints of social
Not that you would notice. Pappano blazes
his way through the score with a sureness of design and
execution that lends imposing imperiousness to the savagery of
the music, exotic grandeur to the oriental pomp of Turandot’s
court, and laces everything together with the alert, febrile
emotional pulse and pull of quintessential Puccini.
that he’s immeasurably aided by Santa Cecilia’s fiercely
committed band and full-throated chorus. Together they breathe
vivid life into a rich palette of colours with a freshness and
urgency accented by Pappano’s pacing.
For evidence of
such, listen to the Korngold-like orchestral swagger and choral
luminosity of the heightened “Arbita son del tuo destino” deep
in Act III, and the opera’s volcanic ending where Pappano’s
driven concept reaches its glowing, exultant apotheosis.
It’s noticeable that of the three principals, only one has sung
their role previously. No stranger to Puccini, Ermonela Jaho’s
Liù, lit up by tortured insight into a conflicted role and an
ardent lyric soprano voice, is a highlight of the recording. Her
“Tu che di gel sei cinta” is a heart-breaking leave-taking.
Sondra Radvanovsky’s commanding Turandot is also something
to behold: a tyrannical misandrist capable of bewitching
tenderness. Those contrasts are well delineated in the
heightened drama of the Riddle Scene and in her duets with Jonas
Kaufmann’s Calaf, through which her spinto soprano moves from
stratospheric ecstasy to dangerous, subterranean depths.
In response, Kaufmann brings the muscular poetry and heroic heft
of his tenebrous, low-lying tenor to bear, providing a
compelling, grounded foil for Radvanovsky. Perhaps a little too
grounded, the showcase “Nessun dorma” arguably lacks the nth
degree of Italianate feeling and fervour. Even so, he brings a
recognisably contemporary sensibility to bear, producing one of
the most sensitive and self-aware Calafs on disc.
is strong support from veteran Michele Pertusi’s harassed Timur,
Michael Spyres’ elderly Altuom and, in Matti Olivieri’s Ping,
Gregory Bonfatti’s Pang and Siyabonga Maqungo’s Pong, a fine
trio of ministers caught between a rock and a hard place.
Despite the pandemic-proofed restrictions of its recording,
everything melds together with finesse into an experience of
cinematic scale and sweep, one that startles with its
directness. Whether it betters its competitors in a crowded
catalogue is a matter of taste. But there is no refusing the
immediacy of Pappano’s claim to attention and no denying the
appeal of this first complete recording of Alfano’s extended