In 2006 director and choreographer Renaud Doucet created a new version of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot for European opera houses that was inspired by the myth of China’s Hmong minority, which describes how all creatures are descended from a butterfly. The reimagined opera proved successful, with several productions that have been staged throughout the European continent. There is also a current production at Vienna’s Volksoper.

Three years later Doucet was asked by a group of American opera companies to design another production of Puccini’s final opera. That, too, proved to be a hit, with performances at several venues, including Minnesota Opera and Pittsburgh Opera; and starting Saturday it will make its Utah Opera debut.

This new production is a bit more traditional than Doucet’s European version. It utilizes ancient Chinese traditions, symbolism and numerology. “We wanted to stay true to the story, but showcase the fairy tale aspect,” Doucet said. At the same time he also wanted to “focus on the drama and the humanity of the characters.”

'Turandot,' from a production at Pittsburgh Opera (Photo: David Bachman, Pittsburgh Opera)

That proved a daunting challenge, because the opera is written on a large scale. “It’s a big opera,” Doucet said. “It has a big set, big chorus, big everything.”

What Doucet came up with has been well received everywhere it has been performed. It’s a production he believes will still be staged 30 years from now. “It’s better than the one at the Met.”

A big opera like Turandot needs big singers, and Utah Opera’s production will have that.

Singing the role of the Chinese princess Turandot is German soprano Maida Hundeling, who has sung the part several times. “I don’t sing it too often, because the tessitura is a challenge. But it sits very well for me.”

Hundeling believes it’s important for the audience to see how Turandot changes. “You have to show how she changes from this icy woman. You have to show how the ice melts.”

Too often Turandot is portrayed as a cruel, violent woman. But that’s not how Hundeling sees her. “She is playing politics and fulfilling her duties. And she doesn’t want to take the first man who wants to marry her.”

When Calaf first sees her he thinks she’s shallow. “He hates Turandot when he sees her,” said tenor Jonathan Burton who sings Calaf in this production. But gradually his opinion of her changes and he wants to win her over. “He is on a mission,” Burton said. “And perhaps it’s a divinely commissioned mission.”

Also in the cast are Kelly Kaduce (Liù); Richard Wiegold (Timur); and Daniel Belcher (Ping).

David Agler will conduct members of the Utah Symphony.

  • What: Utah Opera, Turandot by Giacomo Puccini
  • Venue: Capitol Theatre
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. March 15, 17, 19, 21; 2 p.m. March 23
  • Tickets: $18-$95 ($5 higher when purchased on day of performance)
  • Phone: 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787
  • Web:  www.utahopera.org
  • ALSO: Opera Prelude Lecture by Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson, in the back of the orchestra level one hour prior to each performance, free.
  • ALSO: Q & A Session with Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth, at the front of the orchestra level, immediately following each performance, free.
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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at ed.reichel@gmail.com. Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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