Wichita Grand Opera’s production of “Turandot,” Giacomo Puccini’s final, unfinished opera, was a magnificent spectacle, featuring a powerhouse lead, glorious melodies and gorgeous costumes.
Presented at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall for a matinee performance on Sunday, it was one of the first performances for the Performing Arts Series’ 25th anniversary season. Though the company has regularly toured shows throughout Kansas, this was its first performance in Johnson County or the Kansas City area.
Zvetelina Vassileva brought a fierce passion to the role of the bloodthirsty princess Turandot, though her powerful, commanding voice made her transformation from ferocious to conquered beauty melted by a kiss difficult to comprehend.
The costumes, designed by Charles Caine and John Leymeyer, were beautifully evocative of Imperial China with opulent, draped fabrics, gold-threaded dragon appliqués, and vibrantly hued silks. Even the drab gray peasant gear was aesthetically cohesive. Turandot’s glittering headdresses were stunning. The choice of masks and white face paint for the nobility was a visual strong point (make-up artist Patricia Myers), and the wigs were luxurious (stylist Celia Chin). The production team was uncredited in the program.
Also uncredited were the Wichita Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Conducted by Martin Mazik, they made good use of their many dramatic moments. The orchestra occasionally overbalanced the singers, and sometimes sacrificed intonation for amplification.
The chorus was sturdy but occasionally distracting in its stage crossings, especially as they sang an excellent homage to the moon in Act I.
International opera star Samuel Ramey, in the role of Timur, was a steady presence, convincing in his reaction to Liú’s death, the only truly emotional selling point. Yunnie Park, as Liú, the self-sacrificing slave girl, sang a beautiful “Te che di gel sei cinta.”
Tenor Ricardo Tamura, as the deposed Prince Calaf, was difficult to believe in his consuming love for Turandot. He was inorganically positioned front and center stage for most of the opera, an awkward choice that seemed only necessary or scenically appropriate during “Nessum dorma.”
Stage director Shayna Leahy, along with WGO founder and artistic director Margaret Ann Pent, designed the sets, scenery that was suitably picturesque and unobtrusive, yet regal.