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EDITIONS
Edinburgh Festival 99 Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Larger than life Turandot
The Edinburgh Festival's Turandot straddles art forms
Turandot
Opera by Giacomo Puccini
The Playhouse (International Festival: August 18,20 and 22)

By BBC Scotland Arts Correspondent Pauline McLean

So let's get this straight. This is a 19th century Italian's take on Oriental culture given a 20th century twist by a Japanese company backed by a Scottish orchestra. It doesn't get more international than that and Bunkamura's lavish production of Turandot ensured the Edinburgh Festival opened in style.

Straddling art forms, from opera to dance via mime and visual arts, it's a roller-coaster of a ride, visually eye-popping and aurally rewarding.

Edinburgh Festival 1999
Designer Saburo Teshigawara reclaims Puccini's kitsch westernised view of oriental society and turns it on its head. While not afraid to use humour - the manic sword wielding executioner, the pantomime trio of Ping, Pang and Pong, and the whitewashed emperor descending from the ceiling on a swing - he captures the beauty in elegant oriental touches. In particular, his giant chorus scenes are moving and impressive.

Cheiko Shimohara is a larger than life Turandot whose big voice is perhaps a bit over-stated for such a cold and icy character. Deng Feng Zhao is a convincing Calaf, whose Nessun Dorma won deserved applause and Chen Sue Panariello as Liu won the audiences' hearts with her genuine renditions, even if she failed to win over our hero.

The chorus - including the enchanting Tokyo FM Boys Choir - were in fine voice, their arias made all the more poignant by the subtle choreography. At one stage, they sing while gently rocking back and forth in a line, a simple but effective device.

Audience thrilled by spectacle

It's Teshigawara's style as a choreographer which somehow lifts this opera out of the ordinary. Sure, it has its moments of kitsch but how else can one approach an Italian opera without losing the style and impact of the original.

And to be fair, the audience was there to be thrilled by the spectacle of it all. And they weren't disappointed. Only cultural purists will pick flaws with this one. Everyone else will be too busy picking up any spare tickets.

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