Star-Bulletin Features

‘Turandot’ triumphs
in moments

"Turandot": Repeats at 7:30 p.m. today at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets $15 to $55. Call 792-2000.

Review by Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Puccini possessed a rare genius for creating defining lyrical "moments" that continue to reach the souls of even the most hardened cynics.

There is no explaining that genius. The moments themselves, extracted and scrutinized, seem no more remarkable than hundreds of other opera moments. But there is something -- in the melodic line? the orchestration? perhaps the context? -- that hooks your heart and reels it in, willing or no.

"Nessun dorma (No one sleeps)" from Puccini's unfinished last opera, "Turandot," is just such a moment, and by the time the tenor sings "Vincerò! (I will triumph!)," Puccini already has.

Tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy, soprano Mary Jane Johnson and baritone Quinn Kelsey joined the Honolulu Symphony on Sunday in an abridged concert version of Puccini's "Turandot." Joining them was narrator Eden-Lee Murray to fill in the story line, Timothy Carney's Honolulu Symphony Chorus and Nola Nahulu's Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, all under the direction of Maestro Samuel Wong.

Ikaia-Purdy, as the romantic lead Calaf, registered his own triumph with a velvety bel canto tenor that lent the role exceptional warmth. Powerful and tonally rock-solid, his voice seemed to anchor the music swirling around him. Both "Nessun dorma" and "Non piangere Liu" were marvelous. Originally from Hawaii, he should return home more often; he is a joy to hear.

Calaf's love interest, the ice queen Turandot, was sung by Johnson, who revealed a surprisingly dark dramatic soprano placed far enough back to make enunciation difficult, with a vibrato wide enough to make intonation difficult. Johnson's voice was equally powerful, however, and her vivid acting added much to the concert.

Kelsey, a promising local student, delivered the opening lines of the drama in his rich baritone while standing next to the narrator on one side at the front of the stage. Thereafter, however, he was relegated to the back row, so that his solos seemed to float in distractingly from afar. Fortunately, his voice carried well, even across two choirs and the orchestra.

Murray's narration was dramatic and well timed. It was also necessarily but unfortunately amplified: Loud peaks were distorted, and the balance with the orchestra varied widely.

Crisp articulation often suffers in large combined groups, but a shining ensemble moment came with the children's chorus, "La, sui monti dell'Est (There, over the mountains of the East)." The Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus demonstrated not only that pure, transparent sound of healthy children's voices singing properly, but also excellent intonation and articulation. Bravo!

The crowded stage made ending bows awkward, enough so that even main roles did not receive individual recognition. Worse, the narrator and Kelsey were barely acknowledged, and all four leads had to turn their backs on the audience to acknowledge the choruses and orchestra. That ending awkwardness was a shame because there was so much worth applauding, which the audience made clear with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Ruth O. Bingham is a free-lance
reviewer of classical music.

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