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Marc Hits The Mark

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
02/24/2001 -  and February 28 and March 4, 8, 12, 16,21, 24, 27
Giacomo Puccini Turandot
Alessandra Marc (Turandot), Ian DeNolfo (Calaf), Ana Maria Martinez (Liu), Rosendo Flores (Timur), Daniel Mobbs (Ping), Matthew Lord (Pang), Corey Evan Rotz (Pong), Robert Baker (Emperor), James Shaffran (Mandarin)
Zack Brown (cosumes &scenery)
Lotfi Mansouri (director)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
Washington Opera Chorus

The Washington Opera’s production of Turandot is big on spectacle and singing, when it needs to be, which suggests there are times when things aren’t. Not to mislead: This Turandot is musically fulfilling, largely to the credit of conductor Fricke. That musical coordination between the stage and the pit didn’t always mesh didn’t diminish the score’s impact and passion and the overall positive results of this endeavor. Opening nights often are like that but gel with the run.

The vocal high points of the demanding opera require gutsy, artistic singing and at this, the work’s two principals succeeded. Assuredly, Alessandra Marc, as Turandot, exhibited the powerhouse range required to soar over a large orchestra. Her pure, focused soprano was stellar as she conquered the likes of “In questa reggia.” Seemingly more comfortable in the upper than lower registers, Marc brought vocal drama to her imperial role that was aided by limited degrees of theatrical stage business that helped define her role as the icy princess who wasn’t about to succumb to the charms of any man. This role will be shared with Xiu Wei Sun.

As Calaf, who risked losing his head to win the heart of Turandot, Ian DeNolfo displayed a rounded, reasonably full tenor that blended nicely with Marc’s soprano. Like Marc, he has the ability to hit the high notes, most especially “the big one” in “Nessun dorma.” However, on this evening, he did it by exchanging soaring, sustained lines for those less sustained and more disconnected. Perhaps this role will grow on him.

The night’s unqualified vocal honors went to soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Liu, the slave girl who sacrifices her life for Calaf’s, all in the name of love. In fact, despite Turandot’s spectacular arias, it is Liu’s captivating arias that bring the most poignancy to the affair. For as forceful and dynamic are Turandot’s moments, those of Liu are gentle, lyrical, and require the utmost of finesse. Martinez was simply superb and superior here. Her sense of the lyric line is well defined and her control in absolute pianissimo delivery is wonderful, as readily heard and felt in the emotional “Tanto amore segreto,” sung just before Liu’s death.

Likewise do kudos go to bass Rosendo Flores whose Timur was sensitively and beautifully sung and acted. Daniel Mobbs, Matthew Lord, and Corey Rotz were delightful as Ping, Pang, and Pong, respectively, avoiding much of the silliness that these comic relief type characters are frequently given to do, while allowing them to do what they did best--sing.

Director Mansouri, formerly general director of the San Francisco Opera, staged the work in a straightforward manner, with few surprises. One of the surprises, unfortunately, was his breaking of a basic rule of the theatre--allowing action to take place without regard to sight lines, at times leaving a large portion of the audience visually in the dark.

A Zack Brown production is usually reason for excitement. His vision and creativity ranks him among the primary designers in the business. His Chinese set is visual and interesting, but, surprisingly for a man of his esteem, the sets occasionally obscure action. His costumes are likewise colorful and effective, except for Marc’s, which found her dressed in uncomplimentary colors, lines, and designs.

The large orchestra responded to both Puccini and Fricke with éclat and understanding that heightened the score. Last but not least, the 90 some-strong chorus was first class, brought texture to the tale, and contributed substantially to the musical and dramatic success of this Turandot .

John C. Shulson



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