Two Hong Kong casts offer takes on Puccini's unfinished classic Turandot
Local opera buffs enjoyed a rare treat at the weekend with alternating performances of Puccini's great, unfinished opera featuring two sets of stars - and two different endings.
The casts - the four leading roles changed between the two versions while other players performed in both - offered subtle contrasts in their interpretation of the classic. Director Lo King-man, the city's tireless opera guru, harnessed a formidable team, including local conductor Lio Kuok-man, now with the Philadelphia Orchestra, to weave a delicate mosaic of high art.
The opera tells the story of Turandot, a beautiful but merciless princess in ancient Peking. In the first cast, she was superbly sung by Jee-hye Han, fresh from 12 performances in the role in Vienna. The Korean soprano brought to life the cold but attractive royals she transformed from ruthlessness to passion. She and Raul Melo as Prince Calaf paired well in their journey from enmity to love.
In the second cast, Helen Todd interpreted the title role as an extrovert princess with burning anger. Fist-clenching and finger-pointing aside, her high notes were piercing and effective in portraying the neurotic character. John Hudson as the prince was no less forceful and the pair's sense of conflict came through stronger than in the other version.
It was the pitiful slave girl Liu who silenced the full-house audience, especially when local soprano Louise Kwong took the role. Her endearing voice drew sympathy and, in the suicide scene, tears from those with softer hearts.
Kwong's counterpart in the first cast, Eudora Brown, was equally effective in singing the moving aria in the final act - the moment where the composer's ink dried up at his death exactly 90 years ago last month.
The first cast played the often-heard ending completed by Franco Alfano for the work's posthumous debut. The recap of Nessum dorma, one of the most famous classical tunes, rounded up the drama on a powerful note.
The alternative ending, written by Italian composer Luciano Berio in 2001, was softer, using his own musical language with excerpts from the famous aria as well as the Chinese folk tune Jasmine Flowers, which the composer used as a theme for his leading lady.