CAST: Turandot: Katia Ricciarelli, Calaf: Placido Domingo, Liù: Barbara Hendricks, Timur: Ruggero Raimondi, Altoum: Piero de Palma, Ping: Gottfried Hornik, Pang: Heinz Zednik, Pong: Francisco Araiza, Mandarin: Siegmund Nimsgern
Chorus Master: Roberto Benaglio
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1982
This Turandot conducted by Herbert von Karajan has aroused conflicting opinions: some detest it, apart for few elements or even none, and some praise the conductor or the singers or everyone unconditionally. I would like to speak my mind too and, first of all, I warn you that my judgment will be a positive one.
Turandot is Katia Ricciarelli, a soprano undoubtedly too light for this part and that gave a better performance in the role of Liù in a Turandot recorded few years later, under the conduction of by Lorin Maazel with Eva Marton in the title role and Josè Carreras as Calaf. I must say that I found many psychological similarities between that Liù and this Turandot and, even if I prefer the first, I have to note that this approach opens a new interpretation of the chilly princess. Perhaps because the role is not perfect for her, Ricciarelli strives to instil a sensitive soul to cold Turandot, as it is clear in In questa reggia: after a subdued beginning, the voice rises quickly in a vigorous “e quel grido” to become sorrowful in the narration of the story of her ancestor Lou-ling.
This Turandot, distancing himself from a certain interpretation of the character, does not hide behind the pretext of Lou-ling for fear of marriage because, when she tells that Lou-ling was killed, you distinctly hear the tears in her voice. I concluded than that Ricciarelli’s Turandot do not fear the wedding itself, but rather is afraid to marry another foreigner, as it seems probable considering that also the Prince of Persia, the mute character executed in the first act, was a foreigner, as well as the princes that “in long caravans” arrive in China “from all over the world”, as she sings. Perhaps I have exaggerated, but that is exactly what I thought the first time I heard this Turandot.
I add that this “feeling” present in Turandot is not limited to In questa reggia, but accompanies the character until the epilogue, making at least a little more plausible the sudden change from the cold princess to a woman in love. As for Ricciarelli’s singing, even if the high notes are not always impeccable (I still think of In questa reggia, precisely at its end), you can appreciate the precise phrasing and the gorgeous colour.
Next to the protagonist we find Placido Domingo as Calaf. His greatest merit, lacking the brilliant display in the acute that inextricably linked this character to the equally illustrious name of Luciano Pavarotti, is that he has donated a wide variety of feelings to a prince who is usually estranged from everything and everyone because of his blind love for Turandot. Note in particular how to pronounce, with rapture, “O meraviglia! O sogno!” during Turandot’s appearance in the first act, but especially with what sincerity he addresses Liù in Non piangere, Liù and the excitement with which he pronounces “the stars that tremble with love and hope” in Nessun dorma.
The last great singer of this Turandot (and the one that obtains the best results) is Barbara Hendricks, who portrays a very sweet Liù, to the point that her voice is heard with relief in the tumultuous Act I. Her best feature is delicacy, as you listen in Signore, ascolta, where every note is tender but not pathetic, an expressive choice that, while it gives the character a great nobility, on the other hand contributes to create the image of a young and sweet girl. Tthe orchestra, which almost disappears behind her voice, helps her very much in her task.
The other singers, although they have minor roles, are all fine, beginning with Ruggero Raimondi as Timur, who portrays an old man neglected but not dejected, while the three maschere (here played by Gottfried Hornik, Heinz Zednik and finally by a luxury Pong, Francisco Araiza) appear in the playful manner desired by Puccini, even if it is feature appears with more clarity in the first act rather than in their scene in the second, where the range of feelings is wider.
Herbert von Karajan, finally, is the deus ex machina of this recording. Although he has been criticized for excessively slow times (which are characteristic of his performances), I think that this, rather than spoil this Turandot, has contributed to convey an ruthless and even sadistic image of “China at the time of fables” (I think mainly of the chorus Gira la cote), which cannot even be tempered by compassionate interventions such as O giovinetto! in the first act. It is always through Karajan that the right atmosphere surrounds the singers, as I noted a moment ago when I spoke of Liù. I will also remember the wonderful execution of the end of the first act, which creates the feeling of an impending judgment.