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TURANDOT: The Power of Meekness

Teatru Astra is pulling out all the stops to honour Giacomo Puccini on the 150th anniversary of his birth.  On Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th October 2008, the management is presenting his greatest masterpiece, Turandot, featuring in the title role Francesca Patane’, one of most highly acclaimed dramatic sopranos whose voice, and temperament and poise strongly recall the immortal Maria Callas.  Patane’s worldwide fame is in fact inseparably linked with this formidable role.  Opera buffs can still vividly remember her impeccable rendering of Lady Macbeth at the Astra last year.  Her singing and regal stage presence won over connoisseurs and critics alike, and everyone was clamoring for her return.  

Writing in the Sunday Times (4th November 2007) Cecilia Xuereb stated that, “Francesca Patanè possesses the kind of voice envisaged for the role – harsh, suffocated and veiled with a diabolical sound.  Patanè not only has those qualities but also all the notes which flowed with power and determination.  Her piercing sounds accurately expressed Lady Macbeth’s ruthless drive for power”.  Kenneth Zammit Tabona in his review in The Times a day earlier was no less assertive.  “Francesca Patanè’s Lady Macbeth was unforgettable.  Her voice, which by common consent reminded us uncannily of the late lamented Maria Callas, was emotionally charged, expressive and infinitely appropriate to the role”.  Indeed, the Astra is living up to the sterling reputation as an opera destination of class and prestige.  Patane’ is the latest in the series of world class opera stars that have come to consider the Astra as a place to return to.  Not least is our own Joseph Calleja, who started his brilliant meteoric career at the Astra and who last year sang alongside Francesca Patane’.  Only last July she was called to interpret Turandot at the inauguration of the new open air theatre at Torre del Lago Puccini on the occasion of the composer’s 150th anniversary.  Important future appointments in the same role will be a new production in Philadelphia in February 2009 and the inaugural opera that will open up a new phase in the life of the restructured Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November/December 2009.

The management has always promoted serious local talent.  This year, Miriam Cauchi, who also is no newcomer at the Astra, will be interpreting the no less demanding role of Liu’.   It can rightly be said that Turandot is all about the power of meekness.  Even more, it is the triumph of meekness over power.  Puccini, who had a penchant for plumbing the depths of wronged females, perhaps nowhere reveals his genius as much as in portraying this unlikely duo: Turandot and Liu’.  The haughty and aloof princess of ice, seemingly impervious to the lure of love and mercy, is in the end no match for the delicate, yet strong, nature of the slave-girl.  Indeed, the tiny flame melts the intransigent ice, even if it becomes snuffed out in the process.  Miriam Cauchi’s lyricism, coupled with a scrupulous approach to phrasing, ensures a remarkable Liu’.  Antonino Interisano’s rich tenor voice with his command of the top register, will surely make the show stoppers “Non piangere Liu’” and “Nessun dorma”, unforgettable.  Mr Interisano has been interpreting role of Calaf on both sides of the Atlantic with great success. 

Ping, Pong and Pang make a formidable trio.  Theirs’ is a balancing act in more ways than one.  Taunting, flaunting and jeering, they are almost an alter ego of the master himself: 3 facets of his complex, yet charming, personality.  The trio, who provide the tragic-comic relief, will be sung by Marco Chingari, Giovanni Maini and Davide Malandra respectively. The stature of baritone Marco Chingari, who last year excelled as the scheming Macbeth, is enough to indicate the high benchmark which Turandot  is setting. Franco de Grandis, whose resonant voice is blessed with the dignified gravitas associated with outstanding basses, is Timur.  Kevin Caruana, who has featured in various productions at the Teatru Astra, is the Mandarino.

Puccini is well known for his acumen in handling a seemingly common musical phrase in such a manner as to make a unique jewel out of it.  A sudden surge, a quick turn of phrase and new unlimited vistas open up, cajoling the spirit, lifting it up to hitherto unscaled heights, only to let go again when the prize seems nigh.  He was indeed a prime teaser, if ever there was one!  Turandot is the superb example of this style, and the definitive one.  This technique is evident also in the choral parts, which in Turandot plays a significant role.  The choir is ever present, involved emotionally in the unfolding drama, right up to the rousing finale, which takes up the immortal melodic line of “Nessun dorma”.  The Teatru Astra’s chief stable asset has been the magnificent resident choir, coached by Maria Frendo.  The opera chorus has earned the plaudits of one and all for the beauty of tone and colour, suppleness and range of dynamics, and homogeneity of timbre capable of producing the most subtle of pianissimo to the most vigorous of fortissimo.  This time around, as with the latest productions, the chorus is being swelled with the cream of the famous Rome opera chorus to ensure the top standards reached with last year’s production of Macbeth. 

Mario Corradi is once again being entrusted with the artistic production.  Combining tradition with innovation, Mario Corradi’s sets and direction, not only go for the visual impact, but reveal the inner drama in all its psychological depths.   Joseph Vella, the musical director at the Teatru Astra, whose name is a byword for high professionalism, is conducting the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.  

Festival Mediterranea and the opera Turandot are principally being supported by the Vodafone Foundation, Bank of Valletta plc, the Malta Tourism Authority, the Good Causes Fund, the Ministry for Gozo, Air Malta, Heritage Malta, the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and the Victoria Local Council.  Booking is now open from the Teatru Astra helpline 2155 0985 ([email protected]), Anthony Damato Music Shop, Valletta, tel: 2123 4348, and the Gozo Information Office, Valletta, tel: 2122 7313.  Other updated information on the opera and festival can be viewed on this official website.