Sunday, April 3, 2016

Turandot with Opera Australia: Food & Opera experience

I must admit I’m a late comer when it comes to appreciating opera stage performance. Unlike musical theatre, when opera is sung in Italian I don’t understand it. But these days, there are subtitles so your eyes will look over at the subtitles, then back at the performers and the stage so you can grasp the story that is being told. I admire the talent that goes into opera as it’s not only learning to perform but it’s learning another language. My appreciation of opera also comes as I’ve got to know Jenny Liu, Opera Australia artist who I first met when she played one of the main roles in the musical The King and I a few years back. I thought it would be interesting to get her insights too into the current season of Turandot (pronounced “Turando” so no “t”).

Handa Opera: Turandot on reflection …

But firstly, what the story is about. “Love is in vain if Luck isn’t there “ (Vano e l’amorese non c’e fortuna”) one of the lines in Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot libretto pretty much sets the theme for the story and to the extreme where beauty and the purity of love collide with brutality. And it’s quite a brutal story. The opening five chords of Turandot represent an executioner’s axe falling and you can hear the descent, the impact and then the head hitting the ground. I shivered then and later in Act 2 as a slave girl who is in love with Calaf gets tortured in front of Calaf to his indifference.

So what’s the story about? Set in an imperial city in ancient China, a self centred prince called Calaf from a different land (the foreigner) falls in love with the icy cold brutal princess called Turandot even as she beheads her rival suitors. Which immediately makes you think what’s wrong with him? A case of love making him go very blind. Turandot certainly was playing hard to get and maybe that has something to do with his attraction to her.

Turandot throws riddles at her suitors to answer and if they don’t get it right, their fate is death. Despite no one has ever succeeded, Calaf has a desire to try his luck and he rings the gong and declares his suit to the princess.

The staging is epic located in the outdoor area with the beautiful backdrop of Sydney Harbour reflected on your champagne glass. To give you an idea of manpower it needs to bring this production together, approximately 300 people work on site for each performance.

There will be highlights from the performance where the audience will gasp in unison. I won’t spoil when and it’s worth seeing this performance just for that. The biggest hit aria familiar to everyone even though you may not know its name is “Nessun dorma” (None shall sleep) … you’ve probably heard Pavarotti sing this a couple of times during your lifetime.

How did an Italian composer get inspired with a Chinese themed opera? Well, apparently Puccini first heard some of the Chinese folk melodies in the opera in a music box, a gift from an Italian diplomat to China. He used three of the music box melodies in the opera, including the jasmine theme.

Chat with Jenny Liu, Opera Australia artist – her perspective on Turandot

I was interested in Jenny Liu’s thoughts on this production from the perspective from someone who lives and breathes opera everyday. So I checked in with Jenny and asked her a few questions about Turandot.

Jenny Liu and me. Outfit in collaboration with Review Australia: Chapel Blouse in soft blue and Pastel Daze Skirt

1. What resonated with you the most watching Turandot?

I really loved this production - the set and costumes were both stunningly beautiful and I think it’s the perfect grand opera to have in a large scale outdoor setting. The projections on the dragon and the pagoda were very effective in helping tell the story, and Turandot’s entrance is just spectacular!

2. If you were playing a part in Turandot, who would you have liked to have played and why?

I always joke that one day I will have to play Liu, because it’s my name! It’s a role that I’m currently working on; as a character, she is very giving and is completely devoted to her unrequited love for Calaf and eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice to save him, so in addition to getting to sing some of the most beautiful music in the opera, there’s a great death scene!

3. As an experienced Opera singing artist, what challenges are there in performing opera outdoors?

When you’re singing outdoors, you’re really at the mercy of the weather! It could be raining, it could be very windy, the stage could be slippery - but that’s just what you have to work with when you’re at such a stunning location, and the show must go on. Let’s keep our fingers crossed this season has good weather!

4. Have you performed Giacomo Puccini’s music before?

I have sung arias and performed scenes from his operas before, but unfortunately I haven’t performed a role yet! He writes the most gorgeous music and Madama Butterfly was actually the first opera I ever saw live, and was what inspired me to study opera.

5. What do you think the audience should take away after watching Turandot

I think productions like Handa Opera are fantastic as they bring in people who may never have even considered going to an opera. So if they enjoyed themselves, I would highly recommend going to see another in the Opera House, because it's a different experience.

Pre-Performance Dining: The Platinum Club

We were invited to the blogger’s pre-performance dining experience where the food was created and curated by one of the finest event caterers in Sydney, Fresh Catering headed up by Culinary Director and Executive Chef Geoff Haviland. I say “curated” because the menus at The Platinum Club is designed specifically for Opera Australia based on the theme of Turandot. The Turandot performance is set in the Imperial city during the Mongol era where the royal people of the Imperial city in China back travelled with their chefs whose cuisine drew upon different cuisines of various regions of China. Having lived in Hong Kong and travelled to China, the variety and authentic flavours of the ala carte menu created by Chef Geoff reflects a culinary life that’s well traveled and experienced. The menu has been designed to reflect the era in which Turando was set but modernised to cater for a wide audience.

Here are some of our food photography of what we ate before the opera performance. It was a 3 course ala carte menu where you choose an entrée, main and dessert from a selection of dishes.

There is a lot of deliciousness happening for the entrees: I chose the Autumn Awakening Tasting Plate (vegetarian) consisting of: braised aubergine with fragrant sauce; crispy fried rice balls with tofu and shiitake mushrooms; celery and egg shreds with miso dressing; spring onion pancake with chilli oil; open wonton of Asian slaw with miso ranch dressing & peanut sambal. My husband chose the Autumn Awakening Tasting Plate (non vegetarian) with spicy shrimp rilette with garlic chives & Szechuan cucumber relish; drunken chicken with goji berries & scallion; duck salad with XO dressing; braised aubergine with fragant sauce; open wonton of Asian slow with miso ranch dressing & peanut sambal.

Entrees at The Platinum Club: Autumn Awakening Tasting Plate (non vegetarian)
Entrees at The Platinum Club: Autumn Awakening Tasting Plate (vegetarian)

The mains had an elegant simplicity but with flavours retaining their authenticity to traditional Chinese cuisine. I chose the traditional steamed barramundi on lobster fried rice with snake beans ad black bean butter sauce. My husband had the braised wagyu beef shortrib with rice noodle roll (or "Cheungfun" as Chef Geoff of Fresh Catering says to me in the right accent that only comes with living in the country of origination of this dish for a few years) wolfberries, chinese greens & five spice pork scratching's.

Whilst dessert comprised of a delicious green tea pavlova with cumquat curd, black sesame cream ad lychee salad.

You also have the option to have the signature buffet in The Platinum Club. The first thing I saw when I walked in The Platinum Club was their signature buffet and I thought we were having that as pre Turandot performance dinner. It smelt and looked so devine! You can have the buffet instead of the formal ala carte before seeing Turandot. Here is our shot of the mouthwatering deliciousness from the Buffet a selection of reinvented Chinese salads, hot dishes and sweets prepared by Fresh Catering.

You might like to try the delicious oriental-inspired High Tea with a glass of sparkling wine during the interval of Turandot also created by Chef Geoff Haviland and his team from Fresh Catering. There is enough time to eat and drink (and snap some photos before hand). My favourite is the Sweet Potato Syrup Cake. I also enjoyed the Steamed Red Bean Pudding and Black Sesame Cream with a contemporary twist. These weren’t too sweet either which is how like my desserts.

All photography © See.Taste.Do and all rights reserved.

For tickets, go to Opera Australia's website. For further details on Fresh Catering, go to their website.

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