Noicattaro Lirica 2024 Review: Turandot

Grande Puccini in Piccolo Noicattaro

By Polina Lyapustina

How big is Puccini? Well just take a look at all the stagings opera companies want you to experience for the Centennial of his death. Whether it be “La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Manon Lescaut,” and certainly “Turandot,” it feels like all the major companies are putting it all on Puccini.

But what’s worth betting on in this race? Great conductors, who would get the very essence of Puccini? Outstanding sopranos, who embody the image of the beloved heroines? Mindblowing colorful sets, that will be imprinted in the memory forever? New directors, who bring a new perspective on these timeless stories?

Or maybe, just like in many operatic stories, a small and seemingly minor detail, with its sincerity and devotion can give this pompous celebration another important and long-missing characteristic.

Somewhere in Southern Italy

Italian Noicattaro is a little town with about 26 thousand inhabitants in the Metropolitan City of Bari. It is famous for the sweet grape, numerous churches in Roman-Apilian and Barocco styles, and its recently renovated Teatro Cittadino — the smallest European theatre built in 1869.

Otherwise, Noicattaro is a typical calm Apulian town, with a steadily growing and fairly young population, where aperitivo bars and modern playgrounds make up the main evening entertainment of the locals.

But once a year, everything changes.

Every summer, just before it turns unbearably hot, Noicattaro Lirica, a small non-profit organization, which is located at the back of a local football fan club, organizes an opera festival for residents, offering one new opera production to be seen by about 2,500 people over two evenings.

This festival is a beautiful example of the community support of the national art in Italy. Offering just a tiny (normal, as enshrined in Italian law) funding, the local authorities mainly sustain the festival by giving it a festival venue, with good transport accessibility and fairly close to the city center. There could be more, but it’s a promising start for such an initiative.

All the rest is paid by the local business. The list of supporters read aloud before the performance is long, and it is like a neighbor list for many people in the audience. For the retail chains coming into town, being on such a list means gaining a few points of customer confidence and trust. A combination that seems to work nicely.

Starting this initiative in 2010, Noicattaro Lirica paused for only one summer in 2020 due to obvious reasons. This year, it presents the 14th edition, celebrating the great Puccini with his Gran Opera — “Turandot.”

The huge colorful set, hand-painted wooden panels (before the performance, we were even informed on whose property they were painted!), huge Lucciole di Puglia to light up the Chinese-style decorations, Symphony Orchestra of the Metropolitan City of Bari, local choir and stage workers, soloists, and director. All mixed up into a vibrant and festive substance. A real opera festival funded by the community and made from scratch to perform a remarkable Italian opera for the local community for only two nights to commemorate the Great Puccini.

I would call it no less than true greatness.

Shining Bright

Certainly, it’s not Zeffirelli’s “Turandot,” and the acoustic of the large site hidden among the residential buildings is not the one of Arena di Verona, and the choir members are rather confused with the lighting. But you cannot feel disappointed. Because, you know… the young woman on my left, had her cousins in the choir, and her mother in the orchestra. And on my right, I heard about the sons who were involved in building a set for four weeks.

And all those mistakes and confusions seemed no more than cute imperfections. And to refine it all, we had soloists.

Sarah Tisba is a striking and versatile Liù. She has a bit darker voice with a lower center of gravity, but easily fills the air with an incredible sweetness of the high notes during her intimate begs.

Nikolay Bikov is a stable bass, he effortlessly gets into the grave emotions of a worrying old father without losing the sound clarity. And Walter Fraccaro is a convincing Calaf.

Chrystelle di Marco dominates the stage, like she always does, be it Bellini or Puccini, she just knows how to do that. Her confidence in the lower register makes her an amazing Turandot.

And What About The Ending?

The ending of “Turandot” has kept opera lovers, directors, and composers busy for a century. From disregarding the deceased’s will about the choice of composer, to deep dissatisfaction with the moral significance of the conclusion, “Turandot” has survived many revivals, with three this year alone.

As for Noicattaro, you should have guessed by now. It doesn’t matter. A significant feature of Italians is seeing and navigating easily in the shades of grey. They see good and bad, and mixed, and probably they argue loudly, but rarely fully reject. Life is hard and unfair, and so is “Turandot.”

But on this night the community of Noicattaro gathered to celebrate the great Puccini, and their little town.

And so it ended in the best and happiest way. With loud, long, and sincere applause.


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