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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Canadian Opera Company's Turandot Revisited: Alternate Cast Shines In Puccini Warhorse

By Joseph So on October 27, 2019

Canadian Opera Company, Turandot , 2019
Marjorie Owens as Turandot and Kamen Chanev as Calaf in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Turandot, 2019. (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Marjorie Owens (Turandot); Kamen Chanev (Calaf); Vanessa Vasquez (Liu); Önay Köse (Timur); Adrian Timpau (Ping)’ Kulius Ahn (Pang); Joseph Hu (Pong); Joel Allison (Mandarin); Matthew Cairns (Prince of Persia); Adrian Thompson (Emperor Altoum); Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus, Carlo Rizzi; conductor; Robert Wilson, director. Four Seasons Centre, October 25, 2019. Run through Oct. 27, 2019. Details here

Typically in arts coverage, the opening night performance is invariably the one that gets reviewed by the media. As a result, in productions that are double cast, the alternate artists are often overlooked, which is a shame. It implies that somehow the “second cast” — an unfair term to begin with that should be replaced by “alternate cast” — is second best, which is not the case.

The alternate cast of the COC Turandot is a prime example — I am familiar with their voices and all four are very fine. I heard budding dramatic soprano Marjorie Owens in the title role of Daphne in Semperoper Dresden’s Strauss-Festwoche several seasons ago. Just last August, I saw Vanessa Vasquez as a marvelous Mimi in Santa Fe. Both tenor Kamen Chanev and bass Önay Köse have sung to acclaim with the COC previously.

American soprano Marjorie Owens is what the Germans called a Jugendlich-dramatischer sopran, or “youthfully dramatic soprano,” an apt description of her beautiful, full, and rich voice, evenly produced, and capable of chiaroscuro. Her Turandot last evening showed off plenty of power and the requisite nuance. It also shows that she’s equally adept at Italian as well as the German repertoire. If I were to nitpick, it does have a rather pronounced vibrato. Her Principessa was a bit inert, not helped by the staging, but when all is said and done, it was a fine performance.

Opposite her was Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev as a rather stentorian Calaf, with very impressive high notes and an attractive timbre. I did notice that, compared to his Cavaradossi two years ago, his tone has become a bit unsteady and occasionally effortful. The lowest reaches of his range are now weak — the second line of “Nessun dorma,” sung an octave lower, was inaudible. Elsewhere it was very impressive and would have brought the house down if Carlo Rizzi had paused to allow more applause. That said, I do feel the Maestro made the right decision to keep going.

Canadian Opera Company, Turandot , 2019
(foreground, left to right, in white) Vanessa Vasquez as Liù, Önay Köse as Timur, and Kamen Chanev as Calaf in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Turandot, 2019. (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Turkish bass Önay Köse has a fresh, youthful-sounding bass, perhaps not quite basso profundo but sufficiently imposing, and he has the physical bearing to do justice to Timur. To my ears, Vanessa Vasquez deserved top vocal honours, singing Liu with affecting simplicity and gleaming tone. A truly lovely “Signore, ascolta” with caressing tenderness — Brava!

No, there was nothing second-rate about this cast. I hope they all return to the COC in the future. The orchestra under the Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi was splendid, and the COC chorus was first-rate.  As I had observed in my earlier review, the non-musical sides of things were more contentious. Aesthetically this production is typically Robert Wilson, with his trademark use of light and very formalized and ritualistic movements.

I argue that his vision is more suited to modernist and new music, and certain enigmatic works such as Pelleas et Melisande. I was very taken by his staging of Einstein On The Beach, seen at the Luminato Festival some years ago. I can also see his style working beautifully in certain Baroque and Classical operas, which would benefit from his formalism. But to give the Wilson treatment to Puccini (and Italian verismo in general) where primary emotions are at the core?  Not to my eyes and ears.

There you have it: a musically resplendent if conceptually flawed Turandot, bringing the 2019 COC Fall season to a successful close.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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