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Jean Oelrich
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Cast of riveting voices and full orchestra join forces to deliver Pacific Symphony’s concert opera, Puccini’s “Turandot,” in all its bloody, lustful, fabulous glory!

Orange County, Calif. — January 28, 2016

Music Director Carl St.Clair takes the helm to lead a combined army of orchestra, soloists, Pacific Chorale and Southern California Children’s Chorus when Pacific Symphony brings Puccini’s epic opera, “Turandot,” to full-palette life. This vivid fairy tale of a bloodthirsty princess, whose icy, vengeful heart softens as she comes to know true love, becomes the Symphony’s fifth production in its series of highly successful concert operas. Eric Einhorn, who served as stage director for the Symphony’s production of “Tosca,” returns to give new life to Puccini’s masterpiece, famous for its sweeping score filled with some of Puccini’s most inventive harmonies and powerful melodies; among them, the signature aria, “Nessun Dorma,” used in many Hollywood scores and for The World Cup. Part of the Symphony’s vocal initiative, “Symphonic Voices,” “Turandot” includes acting, staging, video elements, costumes and props.

“The label of semi-staged concert opera is a bit of a misnomer,” says Einhorn. “There will be nothing ‘semi’ about this production. I will be working with the cast to create a complete staging of the opera that simply uses the concert hall as the set, rather than a traditional theater. Action will occur throughout the hall, allowing the audience to experience the piece in a truly unique way.

“Carl is a dream to work with,” he adds. “He is a conductor who truly understands drama and is always working to find new and exciting ways to bring the music to life and work in tandem with the production. Both Carl and I believe in the synthesis of music and drama, so close collaboration is key.”

These newly inspired performances take place on Thursday, Feb. 18; Saturday, Feb. 20; and Tuesday Feb. 23, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; a preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35-$130; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“Producing ‘Turandot’ in a concert format allows for a magnificent sonic experience,” explains Einhorn. “The opportunity to hear this score up-close as played by Pacific Symphony will be riveting for audiences. Additionally, the sheer numbers of the Pacific Chorale will create a sound otherwise impossible in a traditional production. Our use of video projections as well as full costumes will act as a bridge for audiences to transport them from the concert hall into the mythical world of ‘Turandot.’”

Set in exotic China, this sweeping, exultant love story is packed with dramatic twists. It all begins with a bloodthirsty mob cheering on a beheading—not exactly the genteel and fastidious art form of popular imagination. The epic fairy tale spotlights Princess Turandot (a Persian name translated as “Daughter of Turan”), an Ice Princess who will only marry the suitor who can answer her three riddles. The price for getting an answer wrong is nothing to take lightly—the suitor’s head joins the collection on the spikes out front. Pity poor Prince Calaf, who has the misfortunate of falling for the girl. As the opera progresses, Turandot’s heart softens, setting her up to sing one of the most lush and brilliant duets in the literature.

“Being able to stage these great works of opera with a world-class orchestra, conductor, cast and administrative team make for incredibly rewarding experiences that I’m always eager to repeat,” says Einhorn. “The time, care and support given allows for the creation of something truly special. The proximity of the orchestra and the audience leads to a new level of impactful performance and feeds into the thrilling nature of the production.”

Singing the title role is Pennsylvania-native Tamara Mancini, who has played Turandot previously at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale and Stockholm’s Royal Opera. Mancini says: “It’s the biggest role in one of the biggest operas in the repertoire, but it’s a short role—about 25 minutes of singing. Still, it’s very demanding on the voice, very high. In the second act the princess comes on and starts with the biggest aria, ‘In Questa Reggia.’ I really love the role.”

Joining her on stage as Prince Calaf, the man who—spoiler alert!—finally solves the riddles, is tenor Marc Heller who, among other responsibilities, sings what is surely the most famous tenor aria in the world, “Nessun Dorma.”

“The privilege to perform this aria is profound,” Heller says, who found his way into opera through theater, a detour that stuck. He has sung this role previously, as well as a host of other Puccini roles (Cavaradossi, Pinkerton, Rodolfo). “It’s as if one has been handed a gift, the opportunity to live up to its beauty, history and impact. That characterizes my general feeling about having the opportunity to work as an opera singer, but it has added meaning for this particular aria.”

“I love this piece and this composer. The biggest challenge for me in this role is to not get carried away in the emotion of the music,” Heller continues. “It’s important to be focused on what I need to accomplish technically, as a singer and an actor. It sounds obvious, but once you find yourself in the center of the maelstrom of all that glorious, gorgeous music, it really becomes clear that you must stay focused on the tasks at hand. It’s a demanding part, but worth it all.”

Video designer Paul DiPierro once again is creating exciting video sequences to augment the epic nature of the story. Einhorn, who is exploring how to use the hall in new and interesting ways, says: “I want the story and its characters to literally surround the audience. An exciting addition with this production will be the introduction of dancers, choreographed by Cheer Pan and original costume designs by Kathryn Wilson.”

“Concert opera can mean so many things to so many people. The great thing about Pacific Symphony is they are looking for incredibly full, fleshed out productions. Those parameters allow me (and the artists) to create something unique and special. I believe in using the concert hall in ways that audiences don’t expect. For example, during ‘Tosca’ a few years ago, Scarpia’s dead body was lowered into the basement via the piano elevator on stage. For ‘Turandot’ we are experimenting with staging singers through the auditorium. I think of the concert setup (orchestra on stage, chorus in their risers, etc.) not as an obstacle, but an exciting set to play in and around.”

The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel; KUSC and PBS SoCal. Opera FOCUS is concert sponsor for Tuesday’s performance of “Turandot.”

 

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