The first DVD edition of Puccini's last opera (left not quite complete at his death) immediately becomes the best available in any video format. It is likely to keep this status for quite a while, though the music comes... more » across more powerfully in several audio-only editions. The visual challenges of Turandot are formidable, and they are met spectacularly in this production, filmed on location in the Forbidden City, where the story takes place. Turandot is a princess to die for. Dozens of foreign princes have literally lost their heads after seeking her hand in marriage and failing to solve three riddles. Ideally, a Turandot should have the voice of Birgit Nilsson, she should have the looks and acting skills of Teresa Stratas in her prime, and it's nice if she at least appears Chinese. Soprano Giovanna Casolla scores a B-plus on these requirements, and that's about the best we can expect. Among other principals, tenor Sergej Larin sings well, looks right, and doesn't really try to act (probably a wise decision). Soprano Barbara Frittoli is superb and the supporting cast is generally good. But what makes this production unique is the setting; you are there in ancient Peking, with its real buildings, flags, armor and uniforms, costumes, and statues of dragons and other legendary monsters. This is one of the first operas intended for original release on DVD; others were initially issued in more limited formats and have kept their original limitations in the new format. The wider range of options on DVD is significant. Those who will settle for audio-only recordings, which cost about the same and offer much less, should try either of Birgit Nilsson's CD editions (with Björling or Corelli) or Joan Sutherland's. Both of these great divas are, alas, visually inappropriate, offering another argument for this striking visual re-creation. --Joe McLellan.« less
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 02/15/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production is not an Arena di Verona type outdoor performance translocated to Beijing. It is a grandiose event on a gigantic scale of the kind Mehta specializes in. As far as the staging is concerned this is a Turandot unlike any other. The location required and inspired a different and impressive approach by the director Zhang Yimou: from the inclusion of the Beijing Dance Academy to the unusual location of the choir. This approach seems surprisingly appropriate, partly because all the action in the drama takes place outdoors. Mehta doesn't need my endorsement in Puccini. The singers are good to wonderful, depending on one's expectations, but this doesn't matter because the issue here is THE EVENT. This is the only opera DVD I have that takes advantage of many of the possibilities in this medium. The list of the technical features is too long. You can choose different camera angles, 6 subtitle languages, the entire audio track and more. The picture quality is very well defined and the audio has an unusual quality and balance that replicate the gigantic outdoor scale."
John Coleman | West Burlington, Iowa USA | 05/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm just a country doctor from Iowa and opera isn't my thing. My nine year old son doesn't like it either. So how do you get the two of us to watch an Italian opera about a medieval Chinese princess and some nut who is so smitten by her that he risks his very head to win her love? Get a wonderful orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta and combine it with the sublime voices of Giovanna Casolla, Sergej Larin, and Barbara Frittoli and the chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino for starters. Then recruit a thousand Chinese extras and perform the show in exquisite costumes at the Forbidden City of Beijing. The result is one of the finest videos I have ever seen. I am sure this will not be the last opera my son and I will see. Pokemon move over; Back Street Boys get back stage; PUCCINI VINCIT!"
Turandot comes home to Beijing
Hung T. N. Tony | Hong Kong | 01/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Seventy-two years after its premiere in Milan, Puccini's Turandot finally "came home" to Beijing. Never mind that the Turandot story was not even of Chinese origin, being based on a play by an 18th-century Italian dramatist who in turn probably got the idea from The Arabian Nights. And never mind that Puccini had never been to China, and knew little of Chinese history and culture. However imperfectly it was glimpsed, China was the inspiration for the opera, and China remains the source of much of its continuing fascination for the world. For too many decades, Turandot was seen solely through western eyes, with scant respect for authenticity, its "Chineseness" no more than a veneer. Even a director such as Franco Zeffirelli could commit the unthinkable blunder (in his 1987 production at New York's Metropolitan Opera, also available on Video/DVD) of presenting the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, dressed completely in black! It was left to the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou to redress the balance and turn Turandot into a genuine and equal meeting of East and West, rather than a travesty of the East by the West. His production came close to a vision of this opera that the composer himself might have dreamed of, had he been all-seeing and all-knowing about China, whilst retaining the genius and conventions of Italian opera. "Opera on original sites" (which started with Aida in Luxor some years ago) is a concept that has produced variable results with different operas. For all its extravagance, there is no denying the unique magic that the right location under the right conditions can conjure up for the audience. Though it is not one of the most majestic halls in the Forbidden City (which would in fact have dwarfed the production), the sight of Taimiao (Supreme Ancestral Temple) in the Beijing twilight as a backdrop for Turandot was perfectly imposing and inspiring. To this were added two moveable pavilions which Zhang used to brilliant effect, from being an integral part of the scene (from which, for example, the Wise Men read out the answers to the riddles), to a dreamlike evocation of the musical imagery (as when Ping, the Minister, nostalgically recalled his home in Honan, with its lovely blue pond surrounded by bamboo). The production was a visual feast of unparalleled splendour from beginning to end, fully matching the splendour and passion of Puccini's score. The costumes set a standard in opulence and authenticity probably never equalled, let alone surpassed, in the annals of opera. With a cinematic director's eye, Zhang filled the 82-metre-wide stage with a huge cast of extras, from ministers and mandarins to dancers and soldiers, which lent flesh and blood to Puccini's "insubstantial pageant". Their beautifully choreographed movements, with elements from Chinese opera, dance, and even martial arts, were so skilfully blended in as to become an integral part of the music drama. For all its authentic appeal, a major drawback of the historic site as a "stage" was that its separate tiers leading up to the terrace outside the temple seriously constrained the movements of the crowd, especially in the riotous First Act. If one talks much more about the production than the musical performance, it is only because it is for the former rather than the latter that the Beijing Turandot will long be remembered. Good as they were, the principals - Giovanni Casolla as Turandot, Sergej Larin as Calaf and Barbara Frittoli as Liu - were far outshone by the best of other recorded versions (particularly Nilsson, Corelli and Scotto, and Sutherland, Pavarotti and Caballe). Conductor Zubin Mehta presided over the orchestra and chorus with masterly control, and an equal sensitivity to the exotic colours of the score and its pacing and dramatic impact.Like one of your readers, I too was at the performance in Beijing in 1998, but unlike him, I do not think it either realistic or fair to expect the video to duplicate that experience. Considering the conditions under which the production was shot (outdoor and at night), the visual quality is acceptable. The audio quality is variable, both at the live performance and on DVD. In this more than any other Puccini opera, the chorus plays a dramatically and musically pivotal role, but here their rousing and at times barbaric voice is often blunted by imbalances in the sound system.But then, a barbaric China was not what this production was about. This was, above all, a gloriously and lovingly nostalgic Turandot. It was almost as if, after half a century of proletarian rule, Zhang Yimou was intent on recapturing, if only for a fleeting moment, all the pomp and splendour of a bygone civilisation which once thrived on this very spot, and whose heritage the "cultural revolution" almost destroyed. In this context, the three Ministers' valediction resounds with a new, touching significance: "Addio, razza! Addio, stirpe divina!" -- "Farewell, race of men! Farewell, divine heritage!""
Feature-packed disc does justice to grand production.
email@example.com | USA | 04/15/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Opera on DVD has come of age with the release of "Turandot at the Forbidden City of Beijing." This production by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, transferred from Florence Italy to the historically accurate setting of the Forbidden City, tells the story of the deadly Ice Princess Turandot and the Unknown Prince who solves her riddles to win her hand and eventually her heart. Thrice Oscar-nominated director Zhang Yimou has filled his expansive venue with extras from the People's Liberation Army and the Dance Academy of Beijing. The flawless video transfer boasts vivid colors that jump off the screen and clear sharp images that reveal the smallest details even in the panoramic wide shots that showcase the scope and grandeur of the presentation. The performances are good - Barbara Frittoli is a standout as Liu. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio transfer is as good as can be expected given the sonic limitations of the original production. Overall, the orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta fares somewhat better than the singers, who were body miked for this open-air production. Occasionally, some voices get lost in the mix. Examples of this include "Ah, per l'ultima Volta," which combines all voices to bring the first act to a close, in which the voice of Calaf must dominate, but doesn't, and "Fermo! Che fai?" with the voices of the three Ministers of State too small for the occasion. It is the extras included in this disc that make this a DVD and/or opera enthusiast's dream: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer; Synopsis and subtitles in English, French Italian, German, Japanese and German; a PCM audio-only track identical to the CD release of this production coupled with a slideshow of behind-the-scene and production photos; and a 30-minute "Making of" documentary in English or German with subititles in 4 other languages. In addition, this may well be the first mainstream DVD to make extensive use of the alternate angle feature throughout the presentation, providing wide-angle alternatives to close -up shots and vice versa, as well as occasional views from the wings and behind the stage. The presence of alternate angles is appropriately signalled by the appearance of an unobtrusive but noticeable full moon in the upper left corner. Overall, this disc is a welcome arrival for anyone who wants to take advantage of all the features of DVD."
Spectacular production values but a let-down overall
Cara Leheny | 02/01/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with other reviewers who praise the production values in this performance. Zhang Yimou's stage direction is very impressive and reflects his wonderful visual sense. Although at times he appears to have everyone under the sun on stage, the direction does not veer into the worst excesses of Zeffirelli. Zhang makes some interesting decisions regarding how to stage the chorus-dominated scenes, and, by and large, they work quite well (especially the invocation to the moon).The DVD direction, on the other hand, is another story. The director keeps cutting to shots of the chorus, who are static because they are arranged like a choral society on the steps of the Forbidden Palace, while very interesting and/or beautiful things are happening on stage(such as the wonderful dance during the 1st scene's choral hymn to the executioner). Another example of the director's strange choices is his insistence on showing the viewing audience the artificial moon during the moon invocation (oh, look, it's the moon! and there's an axe superimposed! how clever!) when Zhang had staged a beautiful and effective scene.The performances were generally disappointing. Larin's singing was adequate, no more, and his acting dismal. Casolla sounded fine and she generated some heat during the riddle scene, but the final love duet was limp. Frittoli was an effective Liu, but the PPP trio was made more annoying by using pointless affectations to create character (one was, apparently, suppposed to be drunk in the 1st scene. Why? who knows?).I'd really give this performance 2 1/2 stars."