Florida Grand Opera's Turandot Is Ridiculous and Beautiful

This weekend, the Florida Grand Opera opened their season with Turandot. As the plot goes: In Peking, there's a princess named Turandot who will wed the first royal suitor to answer three riddles correctly. Suitors who fail will be beheaded. The iffy cost-benefit analysis has, alas, not dissuaded many suitors.  A strapping young man named Calaf falls in love with her and answers the riddles correctly. Turandot tries to call off the engagement. Calaf gives her an out: If anyone can guess his name before sunrise the next day, he'll not only not marry Turandot, he will allow himself to be executed.

 In this performance, the actors are bedecked in costumes that look like the result of a frenzied mating between Late Imperial China and Mardi Gras, John Keene's chorus buoys the dubious narrative on warm, soft clouds of sound. Ramon Tebar's conducting is stately, and the music is Puccini's loveliest.

I would pay serious money to know what kind of relationship might develop between the in-laws or to find out what self-respecting Persian monarch would let foreign heads of state lop off the heads of his progeny with impunity.

FGO has pulled together a really beautiful production. Allen Charles Klein has imagined this Peking as a kind of primeval forest, with the emperor seated atop the head of a great dragon whose body twists away into the red distance. Ramon Tebar conducts his orchestra with great feeling and warmth, if imperfect sensitivity to the demands of his singers. (Sometimes, during the recitative, it seems they're about to fall off-rhythm.)

Frank Porretta, as Calaf, has a fine heroic instrument, though he saves a bit too much for the big notes; at times he gets lost in ensemble -- especially when singing against Lise Lindstrom, our Turandot, whose voice is downright dinosaurian. When she opens her mouth, especially in the second act, even the orchestra is sometimes drowned out.

The night's most compelling singing comes from the comparably unknown Elizabeth Caballero, a young lyric soprano who has largely made her career with FGO. Her tones are limpid, creamy, Tebaldian. And she can act. As Caballero sings, you really might believe that a girl could fall in love with a man self-centered enough to sing away the night as innocents are murdered because of his googly-eyed obstinacy. Which is touching, I suppose, if a little depressing. That love makes us blind we knew already. Did we need to know that it makes us sociopaths as well?