Núria Espert's 'Turandot' returns without a feminist twist: she neither commits suicide nor kills Calaf

Bàrbara Lluch was a young girl when her grandmother Núria Espert received members of the team of designers with whom she worked on the staging of Turandot at home.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
20 November 2023 Monday 03:29
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Núria Espert's 'Turandot' returns without a feminist twist: she neither commits suicide nor kills Calaf

Bàrbara Lluch was a young girl when her grandmother Núria Espert received members of the team of designers with whom she worked on the staging of Turandot at home. That commission from the Liceu for the designated reopening of the theater, on October 7, 1999, after five years rebuilding it and raising it from its ashes, inspired Espert with many moral questions that she wanted to adapt to the time. Because although they opted for a classic Turandot, with great detail that would transport the public to the monumentality of ancient Beijing, the story told by Puccini and Alfano (who, upon the death of the great verista composer, finished the score) The actress and theater director wanted to understand it from a more current point of view.

Namely: what would Turandot have done at the gates of the 21st century if she had been forced to marry Calaf? Had they really eaten partridges?

"My grandmother made decisions then that I am very proud of. We were not yet so used to changing endings. But she, a feminist, made Turandot commit suicide. In love or not, how could a woman give up power and give up independence! "I didn't imagine her being happily married, having children and cooking," explains Lluch, who apologizes for Espert's absence in Barcelona. "My grandmother is 89 years old, but she still goes on tour. Now she herself is doing The Island of the Air and performs six days a week," she warns.

Espert also created an army of women that surrounds Turandot for this montage. And he created a parallel between the sapientes of the score and the shamans, women who have more political power and less religious power and who are always with the princess and advise her. "I remember," he continues, "the sketches of the costumes and the sets, I remember her at home and discussing the ending. She is known as an actress, but when I see an opera production of hers, some being recorded, she seems like a great opera director to me." "And it is not easy to transition from theater to opera and see how well directed the singers were 25 years ago."

"Last night I spoke with my grandmother and we debated whether to spoil the ending for the public. Because the ending has changed. I suggested that Turandot kill Calaf and she thought it was very good, but we have taken a turn. Also after many conversations with the solo singers The truth is that almost no one in the cast has sung Alfano's ending. They have all killed their parents or each other, but they did not do the conventional ending of hope and love. So I swallowed my ego. to kill Calaf and we changed the ending. But it was my grandmother, I swear. And I'm super happy."

It's not the only thing that has changed. Also "we have removed cobwebs... I am referring to specific things, wigs, loincloths, nudity under the nightgown, things that today would bother the public, that would distract them. Or it is the cage that Prince Calaf entered, which when we saw it my Grandma and I laughed because it looked like something out of Indiana Jones.

Would nudity under the nightgown be bothersome today? "It would distract us from a traditional proposal in which we are in Beijing, the costumes are spectacular, it is not a Calixto Bieito that if he brings naked people it doesn't bother you. However here, every lace, every collar, every wig is designed to reproduce a Beijing of antiquity. It is almost a matter of taste."

The Mexican musical director Alondra de la Parra takes the baton for the first time in this Puccini in this double debut in which she stars, as it is also her first time at the Liceu and she only has glowing words to describe her work with the orchestra, with the choir, with the cast and technical team of the Gran Teatre. Diego García Rodríguez alternates with her in this colossal score that also involves the Orfeó Català Children's Cor.

The cast is led in the first cast by the great Elena Pankratova, who returns to the Liceu after having already performed Cavalleria Rusticana and Parsifal at the lyrical coliseum on the Rambla. Along with her, the tenor Michael Fabiano will be Calaf in this production that will be re-released this Sunday the 26th with nearly 300 people on stage. The different casts also include Ekaterina Semenchuck, Martin Muehle, Vanina Santoni, Maria Agresta, Marta Mathéu, Adriana González, Siegfried Jerusalem, Raúl Giménez, Marko Mimica and Adam Palka. It will remain for 15 performances until December 16.

This title by Puccini is considered the composer's requiem, since he died before finishing the third act. He died in 1924 in Brussels and the final duet was completed by his assistant, Franco Alfano. At the world premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1926, Arturo Toscanini chose to leave the baton behind when the score changed hands. "Here the master's work ends. After this he died," he said. Still, Alfano's happy ending became the norm for decades for theaters around the world.

As Italo Calvino said and Víctor García de Gomar, artistic director of the Liceu, recalled in the happy presentation of this revival, "watch this Turandot again because those who have already believed they are living an ideal night should not be fooled, the time is today, "It is not recovering the past, but with this Turandot with which we make history again."