Weak showings from the two stars severely damaged the opening night performance of Dallas Opera’s current production of Puccini’s Turandot at Winspear Opera House Friday. Soprano Lisa Lindstrom presented an adequately commanding presence as the murderous princess Turandot, but failed to display vocal beauty or subtlety in her reading of this notoriously difficult role.
Much the same could be said of tenor Antonello Palombi in the equally significant role of her courageous and clever suitor Calaf. Palombi shouted rather than sang much of his part, and, though this is a role that demands more swagger than finesse, he failed to create, either vocally or dramatically, a sense of either romance or bravery. Audience members who showed up expecting to swoon to “Nessun dorma” were destined for disappointment in Palombi’s colorless, loud, and monotonous rendition of the beloved aria.
Still, the show was by no means a total failure in terms of creating those spine-shivering moments that audiences expect in Turandot. Puccini lavished every musical special effect he could muster in this, his final opera, from the chillingly lyrical chorus of Act I to the grand hymns to the emperor to the fateful onstage blows of the gong. And the combined choral and orchestral forces of the Dallas Opera can certainly milk the thrills out of this music. Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as the devotedly suicidal slave girl Liu gave the strongest performance among the evening’s principals; bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was likewise convincing—even moving—as the exiled wandering king Timur. Baritone Jonathan Beyer, tenor Joseph Hu and tenor Daniel Montenegro performed the mostly comical roles of Ping, Pang, and Pong with energy and vocal elegance.
Allen Charles Klein’s story-book sets, rife with fantastic angles and dominated by a giant dragon, underlined the fairy-tale elements of the story, with a strong suggestion of savage opulence; stage director Garnett Bruce managed to keep things moving interestingly about half the time, though stiff, perfunctory motion crept in frequently. Conductor Marco Zambelli bogged down in the glittery details of the score and lost sight of the grandeur and sweep—which pretty well sums up a production that managed to entertain but failed to do justice to a great masterpiece.