Franco Zeffirelli’s Spectacular Production of Puccini’s Turandot Starring Acclaimed Soprano Nina Stemme Comes to Great Performances at the Met Sunday, June 12 at 12 p.m. on PBS
Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, which is one of the most spectacular productions in the Met repertory, comes to THIRTEEN’S Great Performances at the Met Sunday, June 12 at 12 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera Sunday, June 26 at 12:30 p.m.)
Swedish dramatic soprano Nina Stemme sings her first Met performances of the demanding title role of Puccini’s imperious Chinese princess, with Anita Hartig in her company role debut as the angelic slave girl Liù. Marco Berti sings Calàf, the suitor who risks his head for Turandot’s hand, and Alexander Tsymbalyuk sings Timur. Paolo Carignani conducts Franco Zeffirelli‘s visually stunning 1987 production.
The opera, which premiered at La Scala, Milan in 1926, is an epic fairy tale set in a China of legend. Featuring a most unusual score with an astounding and innovative use of chorus and orchestra, it is still recognizably Puccini, bursting with instantly appealing melody. The unenviable task of completing the opera’s final scene upon Puccini’s sudden death was left to the composer Franco Alfano. Conductor Arturo Toscanini oversaw Alfano’s contribution and led the world premiere.
The story has its roots in various folk tales about a princess who tests the worthiness of her suitors by posing a series of riddles and who has those who answer incorrectly killed. The characters of Ping, Pang, and Pong are descended from the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte that influenced much of the opera and drama of the 20th century. Toscanini oversaw Alfano’s contribution and led the world premiere. The opening night performance omitted the Alfano finale, with Toscanini putting down his baton where Puccini had abandoned the score when he died.
The works of Alfano are rarely performed today, though Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) was seen at the Met in 2005. The librettists for Turandot were the playwright and journalist Giuseppe Adami, who had previously worked with Puccini on Il Tabarro and La Rondine, and Renato Simoni, who had written librettos for other composers. The source of the story was the play “Turandot” by the 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi who wrote satirical fantasies and later tragedies for the Venetian stage at a time of intense debate about the relative merits of realism and fantasy in dramatic art.
The Met gave the United States premiere of Turandot in 1926, shortly after the Milan premiere. Tullio Serafin conducted a cast featuring one of Puccini’s favorite sopranos in the title role, Maria Jeritza, paired with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi as Calàf
Reviewing the present production, The New York Times noted that “[Nina Stemme] managed to render the grisly ice maiden surprisingly vulnerable… Her powerful, luxuriant voice retained its warmth throughout the evening, with blazing high notes that were never forced or shrill, even when projected over the massed ensembles of orchestra and chorus… The soprano Anita Hartig sang beautifully as the self-sacrificing Liu, her alluring voice plaintive and expressive; the rich-voiced bass-baritone Alexander Tsymbalyuk rendered Timur with dignity. Paolo Carignani conducted a lithe and detailed reading of Puccini’s sumptuous score.”
New York Classical Review enthused, “The Emperor’s palace is one of the most blindingly opulent scenes the Met has to offer… The supporting cast was excellent, particularly Alexander Tsymbalyuk as the old king Timur. He showed a spacious, rich, mahogany-colored bass-baritone, and conveyed extraordinary pathos in his portrayal.”
Soprano Renée Fleming hosts the broadcast.
Turandot was originally seen live in movie theaters on January 30 as part of the groundbreaking The Met: Live in HD series, which transmits live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters and performing arts centers in over 70 countries around the world. The Live in HD series has reached a record-breaking 20 million viewers since its inception in 2006.
Great Performances at the Met is a presentation of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.
Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers, America’s luxury home builder®. Major funding for the Met Opera presentation is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This Great Performances presentation is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Agnes Varis Trust, and public television viewers.
For the Met, Barbara Willis Sweete directs the telecast. Jay David Saks is Music Producer. Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park are Supervising Producers, and Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik are Producers. Peter Gelb is Executive Producer. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer; David Horn is Executive Producer.
Visit Great Performances online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information on this and other Great Performances programs.
# # #
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (KidsThirteen, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: www.thirteen.org/passport
About the Met
Under the leadership of General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine, the Met has a series of bold initiatives underway that are designed to broaden its audience and revitalize the company’s repertory. The Met’s 2015-16 season features six new productions shown Live in HD, including Verdi’s Otello, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and directed by Bartlett Sher; Berg’s Lulu, conducted by Lothar Koenigs and directed by acclaimed visual artist William Kentridge; Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and directed by Penny Woolcock; Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi and directed by Sir Richard Eyre; Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, conducted by Maurizio Benini and directed by Sir David McVicar; and Strauss’s Elektra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and directed by Patrice Chéreau.
Building on its 85-year-old radio broadcast history—heard over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network—the Met uses advanced media distribution platforms and state-of-the-art technology to reach audiences around the world. The Met: Live in HD, the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series of live performance transmissions to movie theaters around the world, celebrates its tenth season in 2015-16 with ten live transmissions. Met Opera on Demand, a subscription service, makes selections from the company’s extensive video and audio catalog of full-length performances available to the public online in exceptional, state-of-the-art quality. Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius XM broadcasts live performances from the Met stage three times a week during the opera season and the Met offers free live audio streaming of performances on its website once a week during the opera season.