Originally created 02/15/02

'Turandot' isn't typical Puccini opera



Giacomo Puccini penned some of opera's most enduring scores. Madama Butterfly, Tosca and La Boheme all sprang from his fertile musical imagination.

But Giorgio Lalov, artistic director for the Teatro Lirico D'Europa, says the composer saved his best for last.

Turandot is a grand-scale opera set in China's legendary Forbidden City. Puccini was working on the opera when he died of throat cancer just before his 60th birthday in 1924. The piece was completed by Puccini compatriot Franco Alfano. The Teatro Lirico D'Europa, a touring opera company, will present the opera Sunday at Bell Auditorium.

"Honestly, for me, it is the best," Mr. Lalov said in a telephone interview. "The music is very powerful. It doesn't matter that he never finished it. I think Turandot stands out because it is unusual, the combination of the Chinese setting and this very powerful music."

Turandot is one of the rare instances in which Puccini strayed from the verismo style of opera. Verismo operas, including La Boheme and Madama Butterfly, deal with realistic subjects and people from everyday life. They also tend to be small, intimate productions. Boasting an omnipresent chorus and a mythic story of hidden identity and royal riddles, Turandot is a much bigger production than most of Puccini's earlier works.

"We travel with 47 musicians, 45 chorus singers and 10 extras," Mr. Lalov said. "I do that to try and stay very close to the music of Puccini. I don't want to use 400 people, like the Metropolitan Opera. That, I think, is too much. But I do want to find good voices and perform it as Puccini intended."

The greatest challenge, Mr. Lalov said, is in casting the principal roles of Calaf, Liu and the Princess Turandot.

"Three people make this opera," he said. "We can have a wonderful chorus, but if those three don't fit, it is terrible."

Turandot was rarely produced for many years, overshadowed by Butterfly and other popular Puccini works.

"Butterfly, Tosca - those are very popular operas," Mr. Lalov said. "There is beautiful music in those. It will give you chicken skin. But this, this has so many wonderful arias. Butterfly is wonderful, but not grand like this. This is Puccini's Aida."

Mr. Lalov said audiences have reached a point where they want to see opera as spectacle, a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.

"You can build a very nice set for Tosca or La Boheme, but they don't have the grand scale of Turandot," he said. "To Augusta, we can bring a big production. That's something people want from opera now. As well as music, they want extravaganza, and that is what we give them."

Onstage

WHAT:Turandot, presented by the Teatro Lirico D'Europa and the Augusta Opera

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.

ADMISSION: $12-$40

PHONE: 826-4710

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com