Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2008 and the recording is still available.

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
– opera in three acts (completed by Franco Alfano) (1924)
Monserrat Caballé (soprano) – Turandot; José Carreras (tenor) – Calaf; Mirella Freni – Liù; Michel Sénéchal (tenor) – Altoum; Paul Plishka (bass) – Timur
Maîtrise de la Cathédrale; Choeurs de l’Opéra du Rhin
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/Alain Lombard
rec. August 1977, Palais de la Musique, Strasbourg. ADD
Synopsis included but no text or translation
Reviewed as EMI Classics 5091732
Warner Classics 2564691299 [2 CDs: 119]

Turandot is one Puccini opera at which many who otherwise enjoy or even idolize Puccini draw the line. The unpleasantness of the two central characters can indeed seem repulsive and the apparent pleasure with which Puccini lingers over the sufferings of the two more sympathetic characters, Liù and Timur, can be even more so. The wonderfully deft writing for the trio of Ministers – Ping, Pang and Pong – only brings the faults of the main characters into greater focus.

Or so one may well think when faced with many performances of the work. The casting of the two main female roles in the present recording however might almost be designed to give a very different impression. Monserrat Caballé had already recorded the role of Liù, to the Turandot of Joan Sutherland, when she made the present version. I do not know whether she ever sang Turandot on stage but what we hear in this set suggests that not only did she have the sheer strength of voice needed for the more heavily scored parts of the opera but that she was also capable of singing quietly with great beauty of tone when required. This is much more often than you might think from hearing many sopranos with more obviously large voices. The pleasure that Caballé’s beautiful tone and imaginative approach gives is enormous, making the central character more believable if not exactly sympathetic. Mirella Freni sings with equal conviction and beauty of tone as Liù whilst revealing that she too is capable of more than a hint of steel when required – less often for this role than for the Princess.

The male roles are not so well cast. José Carreras sings with strength but his approach to the role is very generalized and there is very little character in his singing. In his favour, he avoids the now customary excessive pause on the penultimate note of “Nessun dorma” but overall I find it hard to warm to his singing of the part. The trio of Ministers is reasonably well matched but by no means outstanding. The parts of Timur and the Emperor Altoum are gifts for singing actors of a certain age and with distinctive voices, but here Paul Plishka and Michel Sénéchal sing adequately but without suggesting age or any real involvement in the action. Like all of the cast their task is made no easier by too close a balance. Alain Lombard conducts idiomatically and the orchestra are recorded in a somewhat dry acoustic which very properly recalls the opera house. They and the chorus make a very positive contribution to the result.

For me, the imaginative involvement of the two main female singers would be reason enough in itself to buy the set, given that the rest of the performance is on a decidedly lower level.

John Sheppard

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Other cast members
Vicente Sardinero (tenor) – Ping; Remy Corazza (tenor)- Pang; Ricardo Cassinelli (tenor) – Pong; Eduard Tumageanian (bass) – A Mandarin; Alberto Cupido (tenor) – Prince of Persia; Petranka Malakova & Eva Saurova (soprano) – 1st and 2nd voices