This tremendous Turandot is superbly conducted, played, sung, and recorded (well-judged balance, depth of perspective, clarity, unstinting impact). It also has a USP: the “first complete recording with the original Alfano ending” (Puccini died with the opera’s final Act unfinished) as he conceived it before Toscanini (Turandot’s first conductor) made cuts that have been sanctioned ever since. (There is also a very different completion by Berio.)
With the arresting opening we are thrown immediately into a maelstrom of theatrical tensions and vivid colours – amazingly so for a red-lighted studio production (several days during Feb & March last year; however, the final result is seamless) – Tony Pappano unleashing his forces with no-holds barred projection (never crude though) and with many contrasts of stillness and subtlety as well as vibrant characterisations. It all makes for a performance that thrills the senses and stimulates images.
What a great score this is (alone a masterclass in orchestration, an aspect as much a priority for Pappano as anything else, and his pacing and phrasing throughout are exemplary), and here wholly gripping, the singers audibly acting their roles, each finely cast. Acts I & II are accommodated on an eighty-minute disc, and the longer-than-usual final Act, forty-five minutes, has opened-up nicely, with ‘Nessun dorma’ as its hit aria (anticipated in the previous Act, and, via Alfano, the opera’s big finish, rendered spectacularly in Rome), Jonas Kaufmann in honeyed voice, avoiding caricature. Sondra Radvanovsky is less vocally edgy than some who have essayed the title-role while still conveying regal coldness, and high notes are fearless; while Ermonela Jaho fully conveys Liù’s loyalty.
The accompanying annotation includes the Italian libretto and an English translation together with words from the conductor (compiled by Jon Tolansky) to complement an electrifying (my blood ran cold on numerous occasions), moving (tear-ducts responding) and often-ravishing ‘staging’, one full of gorgeous and dramatic if related episodes, that communicates without barriers – on Warner Classics 5054197406591 (2 CDs).