A 1987 New York Times article heralding the opening of the Zeffirelli production of Turandot, after a rather awed description of its marvels, concluded that friend and foe alike could not fail to gasp. By 2002 a different critic for the paper was calling it "a veritable symbol of operatic excess." Well, perhaps. Acrobats and parade dragons and dancers with parasols and silk scarves (not to mention gilded pagodas, tiered staircases, and rotating platforms over symmetrical pools) are not all necessary to an effective production of Turandot. But I think the formalized excess with which the ice princess hedges herself round (and about which Ping, Pang, and Pong complain so unforgettably in Act II!) forms a rather nice contrast to the passion of her nameless suitor who has nothing left to lose--except, of course, his life.
Although I was never lulled into relaxed, receptive bliss by the singers, they acquitted themselves well. Lise Lindstrom was an appropriately brittle Turandot, who sang her fire and ice with gusto. Her Calaf, Frank Perrotta, was occasionally overpowered by her, but I loved the tone and phrasing of his voice. Maybe he had an off night, but his Calaf was ardent, impulsive, and resolute. The greatest treats of the evening, though, came from a veteran and a newcomer. Charles Anthony, in his last Met performance (alas!) sang a simultaneously weary and caustic Emperor Altoum. And Grazia Doronzio, as Liu, made me cry. Liu is famously classed with Puccini's "little girls," but she stands out, to me, both for the extent of her vulnerability and the unswerving strength of her determination, the absolute clarity of her faith in the nature of love. Sitting in the darkness, listening to others in the balcony who were also choking back tears, from "Principessa, l'amore!" onwards, I felt connected through understanding with the moment when Toscanini laid down his baton.