A radical completion of Puccini's unfinished opera
This article is from 2011.
The familiar tune of Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot, is played at volume on a Hammond organ, as two men (one representing a hybrid of Puccini and his fictional prince, Kalaf, the other, an androgynous figure, who is, at times perhaps, Turandot herself) scream the great aria into the auditorium. Soon the two blokes are engaged in a WWE-style wrestling match, replete with finger biting and blood. The androgyne later performs a routine which combines TV cookery with surgery; a syringe and blade are applied to various fruits and vegetables, which bleed copiously.
Such scenes are, in the mind of writer/director Pawel Passini of Polish theatre company neTTheatre, a part of the completion of Puccini’s opera. Passini has shifted the opera from ancient to modern China (with the assistance of TV and projected film images of the army of the People’s Republic of China and hard-pushed Chinese child athletes). Crashing through this 21st-century vision are the catastrophic events which derailed Puccini’s life in 1909.
The composer’s wife, Elvira Bonturi, pursued his maid, Doria Manfredi, with the accusation of an affair with her husband until Manfredi killed herself with poison (an autopsy showed the maid to have been a virgin). Bonturi was subsequently charged with causing Manfredi’s death; only a financial settlement Puccini reached with the Manfredi family saved his wife from prison.
In truth, however, this story is largely submerged within an often surreal, anti-narrative theatrical landscape which veers wildly between the wilfully obscure and the powerfully imagistic. If one is willing to go with the flow of Passini’s images – dark, moving faces projected onto the back wall, miniature mannequins suspended on red wires, a hyper-sexualised Bonturi accusing Manfredi of being a ‘whore’ – there are riches to be found in this uneven, strange, but sometimes brilliant work of radical theatre.
Universal Arts New Town Theatre, 226 0000, until 27 Aug, 3pm, £12–£13 (£10–£11).