An Opera Singer’s First-Hand Account of Performing in Puccini’s Turandot

An Opera Singer’s First-Hand Account of Performing in Puccini’s Turandot

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This post may contain affiliate links.  Please read our disclosure for more information.

 

Hello fellow Kreatives!  Jenn here!  It’s been a while since we’ve last seen each other (last summer! eep!), but I’m back and ready to share some exciting stories with you, like performing in Puccini’s Turandot! 🙂

Jenn’s “Kreative” Update

Last month, I wrapped up my second season with the Virginia Opera as a chorus member.  A season with the opera is from fall to spring (like a school year), and this year I was a part of two productions: one was the super-fun, fall outdoor concert, “Opera in the Park,” and then this spring as part of their mainstage performance of Puccini’s Turandot.

Performing in Puccini's Turandot A View from the Stage at "Opera in the Park"
A View from the Stage at “Opera in the Park”

To say that I was thrilled to perform in Turandot is an understatement.  This opera holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first opera I ever saw live – ironically, when the Virginia Opera performed it last in 2004.  I remember watching the action on the stage, listening to the amazing singers, and hoping that one day, I would be able to perform in this opera…at least as a supernumerary, and maybe, just maybe, even as part of the chorus.  Little did I know, I would do just that a little over a decade later!

(I managed to find a clip on YouTube of the famous tenor aria, “Nessun Dorma” from that same 2004 show.  Check it out below!)

First Impressions

Performing in Puccini's Turandot Comparison of music scores. Turandot v. The Flying Dutchman
Comparison of chorus music scores.

When I received my score for this opera, I have to say, I was more than a little intimidated.  Last year, my score for The Flying Dutchman was enough to freak me out – mostly because it was my first opera, and written in German at that.  But that didn’t even compare to the score for Turandot.  The sheer amount of music the chorus has to learn in this production is daunting in and of itself.  You can see the difference in the thickness of the scores in this picture – The Flying Dutchman is on top and Turandot is underneath.

On top of that, this music is NO JOKE, people.  The opera begins immediately, sans overture, and off to the races we go with an intense opening number that leaves the chorus practically breathless.  Combine that with crowd/mob-type choreography and staging where the chorus is fighting the palace guards, along with dancers wielding sharp executioner blades, and it makes for one heck of a start!

Preparation

Luckily, we had an absolutely amazing choirmaster, Aaron Breid, who skillfully reigned in our mass chaos.  From the very beginning of rehearsals, he helpfully encouraged us choristers to compartmentalize learning the music, and conducted us with meticulous precision that made singing it much easier than it would have been otherwise.

Performing in Puccini's Turandot Watching Turandot on "Met Opera on Demand" (with a kitty in the background)
Watching Turandot on “Met Opera on Demand” (with a kitty in the background)

One very helpful preparation tool for me (besides plunking out notes on the piano one by one), was watching the opera from start to finish via Met Opera on Demand, which basically Netflix for opera.  While I had seen the opera before (as discussed above), I needed a refresher.  The great thing about Met Opera on Demand is that you are able to choose which of the Metropolitan Opera’s productions you want to see.  I ended up going with the 1987 Franco Zeffirelli production, starring Plácido Domingo (Calaf) and Eva Marton (Turandot), and conducted by the famous James Levine.

The best part is that you can stream Met Opera on Demand via your computer, iPad, Android tablet, Samsung Smart TV, or Roku Streaming Stick.

 

Do you need a Roku Streaming Stick? You can purchase one by clicking here.

Virginia Opera v. The Met Opera’s Production

If you were to watch both the Virginia Opera and The Met Opera’s productions of Turandot, you would notice immediately that the costumes and sets are completely different.  The Met Opera’s production is a lavish spectacle of a show (you can see an image here) which costumes its characters in grandiose robes and builds monumental sets practically as high as its five-tier auditorium.

Virginia Opera, on the other hand, did the complete opposite.  Director Lillian Groag traded a luxurious set for a minimalistic set design of a bare, red painted stage surrounded by human skulls atop stakes, and ornate costumes for overall more streamlined, simple designs that gave the impression of a story taking place in a fictional world of Peking.  (Click here for a great image from Virginia Opera’s opening scene.)

Performing in Puccini's Turandot Jenn in her Turandot costume
Jenn in her Turandot costume

Now, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the Virginia Opera has the same kind of operating budget that The Met has.  Regardless, I wholeheartedly loved our production because the simplicity puts the audience’s focus on the beautiful story emerging in front of them, the emotion brought forth through the characters, and the exquisite music being played and sung.  All of the reviews I read commented on this.  And while I heard rumors of opera “traditionalists” being upset about the change, I only heard positive comments from the people I knew who attended, who said that they were weeping at the beauty of the story and music.  So I say: that’s job well done.

The Singers

While I believe that the best character in this show is the chorus as a whole (*cough* BIASED!), I do want to pay homage to the leading and supporting cast members in this show.  Not only did they all do an amazing job of portraying their respective characters, but they are all lovely human beings, and am very thankful to have interacted with them during our brief time together.

For me, special mention goes to Kelly Cae Hogan, who caused me to quite literally weep the first time I heard her sing Turandot’s aria (“In Questa Reggia”) during staging rehearsals.  I can’t remember ever hearing such a strong, powerful voice like that in person, and she depicted the iciness of Turandot’s character so perfectly.  I held back tears every show, and aspire to one day perform so eloquently.

Are you a dramatic soprano like Turandot?  Click here to purchase Hal Leonard’s “Arias for Dramatic Sopranos” Volume I and here for Volume 2.

The Point

I can sit here and share all of the awesome things about this show (which I am happy to do – please ask me if you have questions!), but the point here is to inspire you.  Yes, YOU!

You see, just a short couple of years ago, I was a nervous wreck, trying to decide whether or not I should even send the email to sign up for an audition slot with the Virginia Opera.  A million thoughts raced through my mind before hitting that “send” button, like, “Surely I’m not good enough.”  “Surely I will never be considered.”  “Surely they will reject me.”  But that’s not what happened!

In fact, I was good enough.  I was considered.  I was accepted!

Today, I feel confident enough in my abilities as a singer to put myself out there even more.  It is a cycle: The more I perform, the more I want to do it.  The more I do it, the more I want to try.  Experience breeds experiences.

Performing in Puccini's Turandot Experience breeds experiences Confucius Quote Kreative Kouple creative professionals opera
A statue of Confucius we saw at one of our performance venues!

I am not the world’s best singer, actor, or performer of any kind.  Yes, I might have a bit of raw singing ability in my genes.  But if I had never honed or used that talent, then someone with more dedication than me would have the opportunities that I might’ve never even tried to get.

So go.  Chase your dreams and put yourself out there.  Because you never know what could happen if you do, but you’ll never find out if you don’t.

Performing in Puccini's Turandot Wig Capped Pre-Show Selfie Shenanigans
Wig Capped Pre-Show Selfie Shenanigans

Do you have any performance experience?  Do you have questions about my experiences?  Write to me in the comments section below!

Stay Kreative!

Jenn

P.S. Click here to sign up for our email updates!

P.P.S. Here’s a great review of Turandot if you’d like to check it out:

Review: Virginia Opera’s terrific ‘Turandot’ heads to Richmond

 

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