Monday, 23 February 2009

Sopranos

Further to yesterday's operatic theme, I thought I would indulge myself a little more and share with you the piece of opera which as I said, captured my imagination. I refer to the wonderful Puccini opera, Turandot. Almost everyone has heard of it thanks to the soccer world cup, the Three Tenors and 'Nessun Dorma'. But, as with most things, there is so much more to it.
The story centres around the 'icy' Princess Turandot and her pledge to avenge the death of an ancestor. This she does by setting any suitors who dare to come 'wooing', three riddles. If the potential suitor answers the riddles correctly, she will marry him. If not, they must submit their heads to the sword. Eventually of course Turandot is 'thawed' by an exiled Prince, Calaf, who is so captivated by Turandot's beauty, that he is bound to try his luck witht the riddles - much to everyone's consternation! However, Prince Calaf answers the riddles correctly and in spite of some last minute goal-post shifting on the part of Turandot (which would put any modern politician in the shade), Calaf and Turandot are united in love at the end. All together now....aaaahhhh!
The part of Turandot is a demanding role and one to which relatively few sopranos can do justice. Among the best has to be Dame Joan Sutherland, unfortunately she never played the role on stage, only in the recording studio with Pavarotti as Calaf - a truly magical combination. To my mind however the finest Turandot performance on stage has to be from the late Ghena Dimitrova. Ghena was born in Bulgaria in 1941 and once said "Turandot may not be my favorite part, but it shows off the voice to great advantage. The way the music is written, you need a voice like a trumpet to do it justice." Sadly she died in June 2005 but Dimitrova had the vocal power, control and range needed to perform such a demanding role as Turandot as the clip shows. The clip is taken from a performance at the open-air Arena de Verona, the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. Can you imagine having a voice powerful enough to rise above a full orchestra, chorus and soloists, in an open air theatre without artificial amplification? Ghena Dimitrova does it - with gold-plated knobs on. The sound quality is not brilliant but still well worth it.

A transcription of the libretto and translation can be found HERE.

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