‘Turandot’ rocks World Cup StadiumThe red lanterns were raised. The heroes appeared on the stage. At the entrance of each gate, a long lineup of black limousines waited in line.
The first night of Zhang Yimou’s extravagant production of Puccini’s “Turandot” opened at the Seoul World Cup Stadium to loud applause by the 20,000 people in attendance, including diplomats, politicians and celebrities.
As the opera began, a full moon rose between the roofs of an imperial palace, a sublime introduction to one of the world’s best-known operas.
The stage was truly the largest and most spectacular set that Korean audiences have ever seen. Looking at the giant display, it was thrilling to see Mr. Zhang’s ambitious visual skills ― made famous in his award-winning films, such as “Hero,” “Raise the Red Lantern” and “To Live” ― come to life.
This grand display juxtaposed with the mammoth World Cup Stadium, home just one year ago to tens of thousands of screaming soccer fans. There were no curtains and no ceilings. Fortunately, it didn’t rain. But as the night progressed, the air got chillier, and by the end of the show, around 11 p.m., many in the audience were hiding under their blankets.
The local production of “Turandot” has been the talk of the town since long before its crews arrived in Seoul, and the stadium was packed Thursday night to see the lavish, $4-million production.
And while everyone definitely got an eyeful, one thing the opera missed ― and perhaps this was inevitable, considering the scale of the stage and distance between actors and audience ― was the emotional contact between performers and auditors, a catharsis.
The stage for “Turandot,” stretching 150 meters (165 yards) across the stadium ― was simply too grand and too big to be taken in. Even those who were sitting up close, on the floor seating, had to pay more attention to the screens that flanked the stage than the actual performance if they wanted to have a chance to understand what was going on.
The location of the screens, at either end of the stage, was also a problem. Because the opera is sung in Italian, most people needed to refer to the subtitles on the screen to follow the plot. But with the screens installed at the far ends of the stage, it was virtually impossible to read the subtitles and see the drama at the same time.
One last quibble about the show ― the location. Yes, the show was organized in order to celebrate the first anniversary of the Korea-Japan soccer World Cup. But the Seoul World Cup Stadium has a completely different character than the old Chinese imperial palace where “Turandot” is set. Despite the stage’s incontestable visual spectacle and meticulous craftsmanship, it seemed somewhat out of place and even unconvincing at times, under the shadow of a large dome.
And to those people used to the spectacles of Hollywood movies, the show’s splendid lighting and special effects would have seemed almost meaningless, so big that they made you forget you were watching a live performance.
In short, the producers overlooked the context of the production. Seoul’s World Cup Stadium is no Forbidden City ― the Beijing site of Mr. Zhang’s “Turandot” back in 1998.
Despite a few caveats, the singing by the main actors earned loud applause after every act, especially that of Nicola Martinucci, who played Calaf and received a lengthy standing ovation after the show.
by Park Soo-mee
“Turandot” runs through Sunday at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. For more information or tickets, call (02) 3473-7635 or 1588-7890, or check out www.ticketpark.com.