Opera Review: Opera co. brings Puccini’s fairytale to life with ‘impossibly beautiful’ voices

Puccini’s last opera, the great “Turandot,” is a dark, Oriental fairytale with a riveting, contemporary, cinematic score. Perhaps knowing this would be his last work Puccini held nothing back and from the first moment the opera explodes with musical thrills and chills.
In the production currently being staged by the Opera Company of Middlebury at the Town Hall Theater, the superb orchestra under the direction of Maestro Emmanuel Plasson delivers an evening of fluid, exciting music. And Artistic Director Doug Anderson fills the stage with the vocal talent to maximize the thrills inherent in the tale of a bloodthirsty Ice Princess and the Unknown Prince who decides to take her on.
“Turandot” is a simple tale, set in China, of a princess who refuses all suitors.
The setting and light design by Mr. Anderson, Bill Friml, Neil Curtis and Elinor Steele Friml create an elemental yet lush world. Rich-hued lighting, bold design choices as well as subtle touches all evoke the delightful, mysterious “Orientalism” that fascinated Puccini and is reflected so often in the score.
Costumed as peasants, schoolgirls, court attendants and beggars The Ensemble, The Young Artists Ensemble and, most especially charming, The Children’s Chorus (consisting of Lydia Deppman, Eryn Diehl, Louisa Funk, Lillea Isham and Meredith Kimble) bring the fairytale to life. They people the Forbidden City with action and fill the theater with gorgeous sound.
Among others gathered in the Forbidden City is the intriguing Mandarin with impressive Fu Manchu-style fingernails played by silky voiced Brandon Coleman. There is the lovely, lively trio of Ping, Pang and Pong, played with humor and great interplay by Daniel Klein, Scott Joiner and Bray Wilkins. Winning the hearts of the audience from her first moments is warm-voiced soprano Eleni Calenos as the slave girl Liu. Her portrayal is endearing and her later death scene was very rewarding, beautifully sung and gracefully performed. As her master, Timur, Fred Furnari is touchingly vulnerable and his grief-stricken solo after her death, in a night of highlights, was a great one. And Middlebury’s own Marshall Eddy, as The Emperor, brought a marvelous, frustrated dignity to his role as Turandot’s father.
The fun in watching “Turandot” is experiencing the raging battle of wills between Prince Calaf and The Ice Princess Turandot. They must be equal sparring partners and equal vocal combatants to keep the game alive. With Alok Kumar as the Prince and Leah Crowe as Turandot it is a lot like watching a high-stakes poker game set to music. They both possess those big, rich, impossibly beautiful voices that can raise the hair on the back of your neck. So, yes, they are a lot of fun to watch.
Mr. Kumar is a perfect choice for the Prince. He is handsome with a heroic voice that never disappoints and his “Nessum Dorma” delivered all the thrills one could hope for. And, of course, the elegant Miss Crowe’s amazing vocal gifts truly bring Turandot to vibrant life.
Bravo Opera Company of Middlebury!
LEAH CROWNE sings the title role in the Opera Company of Middlebury’s production of “Turandot” backed by Marshall Eddy, left, and Brandon Coleman.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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