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Calaf contemplates risking it all in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot (1921–1926)
Based on: the plays Turandot by Carlo Gozzi and Turandot, Prinzessin von China by Friedrich Schiller
Notable Cultural Reference: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Paul Potts audition for Britain’s Got Talent
Setting: Peking, Imperial China

Plot in 101 words or less: A used and abused ancestor has turned the beautiful Princess Turandot against all men. [Insert obligatory #notallmen reference here.] Any man seeking her hand must answer three riddles correctly or lose his head. Never a gender to lack confidence, plenty have rung the challenge gong and failed, but Calaf is sure he’ll succeed despite all advice to the contrary. Meanwhile, ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong wish Turandot were more “likeable” because of course. SPOILER ALERT: Calaf guesses the riddles! Unsatisfied, he manages to create a situation whereby slave girl Liù sacrifices herself because he once smiled at her. Because of course.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Nessun dorma”

Martina Serafin as Princess Turandot in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

I was a bit disappointed when I realized that opening night of the 2017–2018 San Francisco Opera season was going to be Turandot—since I had already seen this production back in 2011 and I remember hating the sets and costumes. Well, the good news is that the sets weren’t as bad as I remembered (though, after four uses they are probably ready for retirement), but the bad news is that the costumes were still mostly god-awful. I mean really…

Raymond Aceto as Timur, Toni Marie Palmertree as Liù, and Brian Jagde as Calaf in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Musically speaking, I think this was a stronger production than in 2011 and, what’s more, I could better appreciate it this time because I’ve seen so many other operas in between. Brian Jagde, the former Adler Fellow who so impressed me in Tosca, and, more recently, Carmen, delivered an excellent “Nessun dorma” and Martina Serafin was very convincing as Turandot, particularly when she had her change of heart in Act III. While it is hard to beat Leah Crocetto’s excellent Liù, last-minute replacement Adler Fellow Toni Marie Palmertree did a respectable job, especially in her final number. Raymond Aceto made more of an impression as Timor this time around.

Ping, Pang, Pong contemplate Turandot’s bloody reign in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

That little one sure can sing!

—my neighbor upon Toni Marie Palmertree’s curtain call

As for those other costumes, I have to say, I didn’t love many of the dresses that made the Chronicle‘s opening night society wrap-up, but two beautiful items that I thought were also on point thematically are below.

Left: Yuka Uehara of Tokyo Gamine in her own creation. Right: Sara Griffith’s inspired modification of her grandmother’s jewelry box. Photos by Gabrielle Lurie for the Chronicle.

Luckily, I managed to surreptitiously snap a few pics of my own for posterity.




There are five more performances of Turandot at the War Memorial Opera House this month, on September 12, 15, 21, 24, and 30. Then it comes back again at the end of the season on November 18, 25, and 28 and December 3, 6, and 9. So there’s no excuse for missing this one. Tickets can be purchased here.

Riddle me this: All’s well that ends well? Photo by Cory Weaver.