NEW YORK CITY.
He's already proven his mettle at Metropolitan Opera with Verdi, Wagner, Bizet, Gounod, Debussy, Poulenc, Dvorak, and Richard Strauss, but it's taken Yannick Nezet-Seguin a full decade to get round to that sturdiest pillar of the popular repertoire: Puccini, The Turandot I saw and heard on Oct. 9* was the season's third (it came on the heels of the company's history-making first regular Sunday matinee), and the Met's newly blond music director seemed eager to atone for lost time with a powerful, aurally seductive, often notably deliberate account of the score. As usual with him, some striking details were brought to the fore (I'd never heard the halting, drooping phrases that precede Calaf's answering of the third riddle sound so ominously apprehensive); and the climaxes of all three acts had an electrifying grandeur. But he often seemed to be delivering the music number by number, with audible punctuation and a pulse that occasionally slowed to near-stasis: Calaf's "Non piangere, Liu," for example, lingered lovingly but went nowhere. It's a tough score to manage, and it's been a while, I think, since he last conducted it. I don't doubt it'll sound like more of a piece once it's fully back in his system.
He had a good cast, even if my long (perhaps too long) memory can easily call up its betters. Christine Goerke was a fine Turandot once she'd passed the initial hurdles Of "In questa reggia," though that was quite decently done--and as always, she proved a rewarding watch, with more dramatic nuance than one usually sees in the role. She contrasted nicely with the lovely Liu of Eleonora Buratto; it was a treat to have a warm-voiced, native Italian lyric soprano in the role, and she laudably aimed for all the right effects--the echo phrases in "Signore, ascolta," the role's signature high pianissimi--despite some of them eluding her by just a hair's breadth (my first two Lius were, I confess, slight spoilers: Moffo and Caballe). This production was also my first live encounter with Yusif Eyvazov, and his lean, reedy tone was smaller than I'd expected--in fact, in their exchanges in Act II he was outsung by Carlo Bosi as the admirable Altoum. Still, he looked good, acted with conviction, and showed off plenty of spoton top notes: the excitingly held high A, for instance, as he struck the gong at the end of Act I. The veteran James Morris would never have been an ideal Timur--a role for a true, rolling, Italianate basso cantante--but he clearly knows what he's doing up there onstage. Baritone Javier Arrey made an impressive mark as the proclamation-prone Mandarin. But the well-sung Ping-Pang-Pong trio of Alexey Lavrov, Tony Stevenson, and Eduardo Valdes wasn't much fun, probably because the beloved, hyper-ornate production by Franco Zeffirelli just doesn't know what to do with them. After 32 years and nearly 200 performances it still elicits delighted gasps, but of all the Turandot stagings I've seen, Zeffirelli's is the only one that's given me nothing to think about but the sets.
Caption: Pene Pati (Romeo), James Creswell (Frere Laurent) & Nadine Sierra (Juliette) in SFO's Romeo et Juliette