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New Territory

An unusual version of Puccini's 'Turandot',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Fringe opera companies perform a variety of roles. Perhaps most importantly they bring opera to the places that the bigger companies do not reach. So that on Sunday 4 November 2007, Midsummer Opera under conductor David Roblou brought Puccini's Turandot to the Broadway Theatre, Catford in South East London, UK, a theatre which dates from only a few years after the première of Puccini's final opera.

Which brings us to another important role for smaller companies, the exploration of rare and neglected repertoire. Turandot might not actually seem to fit into this category, but Midsummer Opera performed Alfano's ending as originally written before Toscanini's cuts. Alfano removed some 109 bars at Toscanini's request; Toscanini was displeased with Alfano's attempted completion of Puccini's unfinished opera and felt that Puccini would be as well. Today we can sympathise with Alfano having to undertake such a thankless task and it is possible to consider a radical revision of Alfano's ending in the light of all of Puccini's surviving sketches, many of which Alfano evidently did not see. But Alfano's completion does attempt to set the complete libretto and presents a far more developed view of Turandot and Calaf's final encounter. Whereas the version popularly performed omits any attempt at a final duet and rushes headlong to the end, anxious only to get things over with.

A final area where fringe opera companies play an important role is in community participation and enabling singers to be involved in areas where they would not necessarily get the opportunity elsewhere. In Midsummer Opera this includes giving young singers the chance to play new roles; allowing more experienced singers to try out new roles. This performance of Turandot also included community involvement in the main chorus, the children's chorus and the young brass players providing the stage band.

The Broadway Theatre, without a proper pit, was not an ideal space for performing such a large scale piece. The resonant acoustic provided some balance problems, but gave us a chance to hear, quite vividly, the fine playing of the seventy-strong orchestra. The cast rose magnificently to the challenge of the acoustic.

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Copyright © 14 November 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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