An opera with Olympic flair
A year ago, Zhang Yimou wowed a worldwide audience with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
Last night at the same venue - the National Stadium - the Chinese director won thunderous applause for his latest production of a classic opera when he took a bow that was beamed onto two giant screens.
Zhang's Turandot was designed not just for opera buffs, but for a mass audience with the combined appeal of the Bird's Nest, China's biggest name in performing arts and a Western opera against a Chinese backdrop.
Zhang and his team are very familiar with Puccini's swan song. They first produced it in Florence in the mid-1990s, and then came the Forbidden City edition, which also was filmed. These were followed by productions in South Korea and Germany.
The current production is similar to the Forbidden City version with its symmetrical layout and a chorus stationed along the stairs that flank the central area of the stage.
What makes the Bird's Nest version "modern and Olympic-flavored" is the giant backdrop upon which various images are projected.
These images include horses galloping while Timur reminisces front stage about his past, a giant moon during the execution scene and a giant gong that Prince Calaf strikes to enter the riddle contest.
Against this screen that is 17.5 m high by 52 m wide is the moveable silhouette of a palace. In the center is a square frame that can be moved forward, bringing with it the emperor and his throne. Two platforms on the stairs move horizontally, meeting at the center.
However, the impassioned singing did get through. Italian soprano Raffaella Angeletti has a steely voice and a svelte figure, rare for the role of dramatic soprano with a sky-high vocal range.
Chinese tenor Dai Yuqiang and Chinese soprano Yao Hong both delivered a performance of polish and passion.
The amplified sound left room for improvement, which is probably natural for a setting this huge where sounds from different speakers can bounce back and create an echo effect.
Li Yun, a language tutor who teaches Chinese to overseas students, was exhilarated. "It was just as I expected, great fun in a great place," Li said.
The performance will be repeated tonight.