A SCENE from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot in Turkey

AFTER a two-year hiatus, live opera returns to the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) this month with Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.

The gala is scheduled for Dec. 9, 8 p.m., with a matinee performance on Dec. 11, 3 p.m.

Based on an ancient Persian fairytale, Mr. Puccini’s opera is set in ancient China where Princess Turandot declares that she will only marry the suitor who can solve three riddles. Prince Calaf accepts the challenge — but if he fails, he will be executed. But when the prince passes the test, the princess refuses to marry him. Prince Calaf then suggests that if Princess Turandot is able to guess his name before dawn the following day, he will accept execution.

“Puccini is one of most performed composers also because he was a great theater man. He wasn’t just a great musician… He always picked up the right story,” Marco Clemente, Ambassador of Italy to the Philippines, told BusinessWorld shortly after a press conference on Nov. 21 at the Hilton Manila.

Turandot was Mr. Puccini’s final opera, which he left unfinished when he died suddenly in 1924. It premiered in Milan in1926 with the ending finished by composer Franco Alfano. The opera features one of the best-known arias, Nessun Dorma, which was sung by Luciano Pavarotti at the 1990 World Cup soccer tournament in the United Kingdom.

In Alexandra Wilson’s Opera: A Beginner’s Guide, the author noted that Turandot uses a “very modern and at times dissonant musical language, and its movement flows on relatively seamlessly, and naturally.”

Leading the creative team for the opera’s Manila production is Italian director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini who also directed Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’ Amore and Lucia di Lammermoor at the CCP in 2017 and 2020 respectively. Mr. Travaglini is working with Prince Ravivaddhana Monipong Sisowath as assistant director. “He is very creative, and his mind is much ahead of what he is saying. So, you have to guess what is in his mind and to follow what he is saying knowing that he is able to change everything at the end,” the assistant director said of working with Mr. Travaglini in the production.

Valentino Favoino will conduct the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra along with the choral ensembles that make up the Turandot Opera Chorus. Giovanni Pirandello is joining the team as lighting designer.

The role of Prince Calaf is played by Italian tenor Alessandro Liberatore. Korean soprano Lilla Lee plays Princess Turandot. Bass Jinsu Lee plays Timur, the exiled Tartar king. Other performers are Filipino soprano Rachelle Gerodias in the role of Liu; Byeong In Park as Ping the Grand Chancellor; tenor Ervin Lumauag as Pang the Grand Administrator; tenor Ivan Nery as Pong the Grand Intendant; tenor Nomher Nival as Emperor Altoum, and baritone Greg de Leon as Mandarino. The opera dance ensemble feature artists from Alice Reyes Dance Philippines.

“[Opera] is a catalyst of the artistic development of a country,” Mr. Clemente told BusinessWorld, “It involves various arts from music, dance, and theater.”

Mr. Clemente describes watching an opera like opening a treasure. “Opera is so much more. You have to know the plot, the story, what was the experience of the author, and the origin of the story.”

He noted that the language barrier is not necessarily a hindrance to appreciating the art.

“Opera is so powerful that you do not have to understand every single word. But you have to understand the situation,” Mr. Clemente said. He suggests reading the summary of the story beforehand, then at the theater, the focus is to enjoy the action onstage.

“If the organizer realizes that after this Turandot there is more interest [in opera], they might also extend the number shows next time,” he said.

Turandot is presented by CCP, the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation Inc., and Rustan’s Group of Companies, with the Italian Embassy.

Tickets are available at Rustan’s Customer Service in the department store branches in Makati (8813-3739 Loc 280), Shangri-la (8633-4636 Loc 400), Alabang (8850-5592), and Gateway (8931-2460); at the CCP Box Office (8832-3704); Ticketworld  (8891-9999); and SM Tickets (8470-2222; 0917-870-2222 or e-mail customercare@smtickets.com). Ticket prices for the Dec. 9 gala range from P6,000 for Orchestra Center to P2,500 for Balcony I Sides; while tickets for the Dec.11 matinee range in price from P4,000 for Orchestra Center to P1,500 for Balcony I Sides. Michelle Anne P. Soliman