I doubt there’s ever been a more compassionate production of Puccini’s Turandot than Christopher Alden’s for Welsh National Opera.
First seen in 1994, it has worn very well over nearly two decades, and if originally we concentrated on the police-state setting, now we can trace the emotional interaction between the characters against that context.
The evening abounds with lovely touches, such as the unspoken old codgers’ camaraderie between the jibbering Emperor (Paul Gyton) and Timur, the exiled King of Tartary (Carlo Malinverno making much of a part which often emerges as a mere cipher).
But the chief element here is the sheer warmth brought to the normally cartoon-like glacial Princess, Turandot herself. We see her almost punching the air with relief when her latest suitor Calaf (Gwyn Hughes Jones rising well to this unpleasant role) at last brings answers to her three riddles; we see her racked with remorse over the torture and death of the selfless slave-girl Liu (Rebecca Evans both dignified and appealing); and, most heart-rending of all, allowing the blind Timur to think she is the Liu he is trying to coax back into life.
This was an enthralling portrayal by Anna Shafajinskaia, power-dressed a la Hillary Clinton, but so emotionally vulnerable, too.
Special praise for Heather Carson’s/ Paul Woodfield’s lighting, so deftly linked to atmospheric moments in the score; to the unsurpassable WNO Chorus, whether full-throated or in the subtlest of pianissimi; to the infinitely flexible orchestra; and, masterminding all of this, conductor Lothar Koenigs.
Rating * * * * *