From Tokyo, ‘Turandot’ set to rock the world

Photo by Rikimaru Hotta

Teodor Ilincai (Calaf), second from right, rehearses “Turandot,” with Takumi Yogi (Pang), left; Toshiaki Murakami (Pong), second from left; and Takashi Masu (Ping), right, at New National Theatre, Tokyo, in late June.

By Eriko Fuchigami / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterConductor Kazushi Ono hopes that the forthcoming production he will conduct of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” will inspire the world.

This will be the first joint production by two major Tokyo venues that stage operas: the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall in Ueno and the New National Theatre, Tokyo, in Hatsudai. The opera will open on July 12 and will be staged at both venues, as well as in Otsu, throughout this month, and in Sapporo in August.

Ono will tackle Puccini’s grand opera together with a star-studded cast and internationally acclaimed director Alex Olle.

The production is the first part of the large-scale, two-year, two-opera project Opera Summer Festival 2019-20 Japan — Tokyo — World. It is the opera community in Japan’s collective effort to promote culture ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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  • Photo by Rikimaru Hotta

    Kazushi Ono, front, speaks with the creative team of “Turandot”: director Alex Olle, behind him to the left; set designer Alfons Flores, behind him to the right; and associate director Susana Gomez, right.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Kazushi Ono

Ono serves as the general producer of the festival.

“To make it relevant to the Olympics and its five rings, we started from the concept of producing opera that crosses these five continents, and we first chose an opera with a story set in Asia,” Ono said.

“Turandot,” set in ancient Beijing, tells the story of the title character who is a callous and beautiful imperial princess. She declares that she will marry the man who can solve three riddles. While her suitors are beheaded one after another for failing the task, Calaf, a prince from a country defeated by the empire, begins his attempt at the challenge.

Ono said the tattered city and depiction of beheadings reflect the influence of World War I.

“I think this opera has elements of modernity because there are still wars in our time, too,” he said. “It also features powerful cacophony and polytonality of melodies in different keys sounding simultaneously, thereby evoking the atmosphere of the time when the flowers of modernism blossomed.”

Puccini toiled to compose “Turandot” and left it unfinished when he died in 1924. The opera was completed by composer Franco Alfano.

The job of directing the magnificent work has been entrusted to Olle, who has been praised for his work at the Salzburg Festival, the Paris Opera and other major opera houses and music festivals. Hailing from Spain, he is also known for directing the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games. This is the first time that he has become involved in an opera produced in Japan.

“He excels in showing a spectacular production using an enormous set as well as in carefully portraying the characters’s deepest psyche,” Ono said.

Olle’s production focuses on the interpretation of why Liu, a slave woman in love with Calaf, commits suicide for the sake of the man she loves.

“It’s not simply self-sacrifice,” Ono said. “I think he has a concept in which Turandot will also develop heroism like Liu. I reckon the ending will change as well.”

The opera is sprinkled with must-hear moments, such as Calaf’s famous aria, “Nessun dorma” (None shall sleep).

Accomplished singers from around the world will perform in the production, such as Irene Theorin and Jennifer Wilson, who will share the title role, and Eri Nakamura and Ryoko Sunakawa as Liu on alternate dates. In the pit will be the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, of which Ono is the music director.

“It’s invaluable that we’ve been able to bring in a double cast of talented singers with brilliant stage presence,” Ono said. “Since Olle will direct the work, I think it will be a tour de force with global appeal.”

Performances of “Turandot” will take place at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Taito Ward, Tokyo, on July 12-14; at New National Theatre, Tokyo, in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on July 18, 20-22; at Biwako Hall in Otsu on July 27-28; and at Sapporo Cultural Arts Theater Hitaru on Aug. 3-4. Visit for more information.


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