THE ATLANTA OPERA celebrated ten years at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre—the roadhouse that occupies a majestic post at one of Atlanta’s busiest intersections—with Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot (seen May 7). Puccini’s last opera was the work that former AO general director Dennis Hanthorn selected to begin the opera’s residency at the Cobb a decade ago; the company’s present general and artistic director, Tomer Zvulun, felt that Turandot provided a fitting close to the most successful season in the company’s history.
Turandot opens without an overture and the Atlanta Opera capitalized upon this, making an instant impact when the curtain ascended with the elaborate and obviously expensive set and costuming designed by André Barbe. The vibrant production was jointly funded by no less than five American opera companies and cost $1 million to realize: spectacular headdresses, flowing fabrics, and a plethora of props that furthered the fantastic (and grotesque) aspect of Turandot.
The blood red, reflective set, looked like a deconstructed sphere, one ring descending at an angle and serving as a raked stage. Stage director Kathleen Stakenas did a fine job utilizing the space to accommodate a sizable cast on multiple planes (including featured dancers). In Act I, Peking commoners groveled on hands and knees on both sides of the stage, choreographed to dip and bow while singing their opening number, “Gira la Cote!” And Krista Billings re-created lighting designer Guy Simard’s original lighting design, avoiding hard angles and utilizing side light in reds and yellows.
The opera, based upon Carlo Gozzi’s Chinese fable, has a heart-wrenching love-triangle at its center. Soprano Kelly Kaduce sang the role of the slave girl Liù, endearing herself with effective mannerisms that conveyed humility and self-sacrifice. Kaduce’s final aria, “Tu che di gel sei cinta” was provocative as was the interrogation scene, her middle voice rich-sounding and rising to the upper tiers of the theatre. Higher tones were more tenuous, sometimes teetering sharp. This was the final performance of the run in Atlanta and the object of her affection, Calaf (Gianluca Terranova), sounded fatigued as well. Nevertheless, Terranova’s beefy tenor filled the hall and the audience cheered predictably after his “Nessun dorma.” Terranova’s best singing occurred in Act II when he answered each of Turandot’s riddles with precision.
In the title role, dramatic soprano Marcy Stonikas dazzled with a bright laser beam of sound and tightly spun vibrato. A former young artist at Seattle Opera, Stonikas has a spine-tingling soprano that was worth the the price of admission. Positioned at the highest point of the raked stage at the foot of her father, the Emperor Altoum (Nathan Munson), Stonikas stoically spread her arms to reveal the gruesome faces of her beheaded suitors on long panels that draped down from her sleeves.
Wagnerian bass Steven Humes sang Timur in Atlanta back in 2007 and returned for this anniversary, sounding fresh. Daniel Belcher, Julius Ahn, and Joseph Hu served as the three quirky Imperial Ministers. Busy and highly choreographed, their comedy regrettably fell flat at times. This was a case where less could have been more for their distinctive voices fused nicely as a trio and paired with Puccini’s music their artistry would have been sufficient. —Stephanie Adrian