Not planned, but welcome nonetheless:  A quick week in Beijing, my old stomping ground.  The occasion was a visit to a new production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot” by the same directing/designing team that I had worked with in 1997/98 for “Turandot in the Forbidden City”:  Zhang Yimou, Chen Weiya, Zeng Li and Gao Guangjian. Zhang Yimou has become a superstar in China in the last decade, what with doing the opening/closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 and blockbuster movies such as “Hero”, etc.


So now, as part of the People’s Republic of China 60th anniversary celebrations,  he was commissioned to do a new production of the iconic opera that, ironically, was composed in 1924 by an Italian who had never been to China.  And true to form, Zhang Yimou created a spectacular extravaganza set in the Bird’s Nest Stadium.  In a space for up to 80,000 spectators, half the space was used for the huge stage construction, two very large high definition side-screens, space for the orchestra, etc.  I was told the costs were close to 15 million Euro, with almost 1000 performers, including a chorus of about 250. All of them wearing one or more exquisitely detailed, hand-made costumes. The set was primarily a raked stage with a gigantic white backdrop for a multitude of colorful and for the most part effective and atmospheric projections.

I attended the second evening on October 7 with Susan Foster as Princess Turandot and Warren Mok doing the role of Calaf, Yao Hong as Liu and Tian Haojiang as Timur.  Janos Acs conducted the China Central Opera House Orchestra.  To be honest, I cannot say much about the musical quality of the singers, chorus or orchestra because the amplification system was terrible:  loud and loudest, without any thought to musical quality, echoes abounded.  I am sure the producers realized that this is an area that needs to be greatly improved if the production is to be taken on tour as I have heard.

Of course, I did not only go to this performance on this trip – I revisited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  More on this in separate posts.

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  1. I love this part of your trip. I just had a premier of a work for piano and flutes called “Along the Yangtze River” so am in a very Chinese frame of mind. Also, my student friend Yidan just returned from China and brought me many stories….so you can see how exciting it was for me to hear your news too. What luxury and extravagance…
    When do you return? Warmest wishes, Gloria

  2. Think of the changes you have seen in Turandot productions since the days of old in SFO – with Montersat Caballe and Luciano.


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