Ping, Pong & Pang – How Atlanta Opera’s Widely Traveled ‘Turandot’ Production Remains Fresh For Veteran Cast Members

By David Salazar

Atlanta Opera is gearing up for a revival of Puccini’s “Turandot,” the iconic opera featuring arguably opera’s most iconic melody.

The company, which is reviving the production by French Canadian duo Renaud Doucet and André Barbe, will feature a cast that includes tenor Gianluca Terranova and Marcy Stonikas as Turandot.

Finding Deeper Meaning From Another Vision

Reviving the production will be director Kathleen Stakenas who first encountered the opera in graduate school. Little did she know that she would be the person in charge of leading the production’s revivals through six cities, including Seattle, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati among others.

Stakenas is in a unique position in that while she is the director of the revival, she is beholden to someone else’s vision. But the director feels that this responsibility has helped her grow in her understanding of Puccini’s final masterwork.

“Every time we restage it and explain it to someone else, I find new things. In discussing with new people, everyone has their own take on it and I have new things to think about,” she told OperaWire regarding the upcoming Atlanta revival. “I find myself delving deeper into it each time and learning new things. It becomes a learning experience.”

A Veteran Trio

This production requires 200 people in both the cast and crew, many that have performed the production across the numerous cities.

Among the veterans of the production are baritone Daniel Belcher, Taiwanese-American tenor Joseph Hu, and Korean-American tenor Julius Ahn in the roles of Ping, Pong and Pang, respectively.

All of them have sung these roles for years and all vividly remember their first experience with the famed opera.

Hu’s connection comes from his youth.

“Turandot has many Chinese melodies and there is one that appears every time Turandot appears,” Hu explained. “When I was little, we would hear that part in kindergarten.”

For Belcher and Ahn, the first contact came from Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic production at the Metropolitan Opera.

“My story is kind of boring,” noted Belcher. “I heard Pavarotti sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ a bunch of times and then I saw the Zeffirelli production at school. The role of Ping was something I always wanted to do because I just love the music. “

“I was at the Met Opera in 2002 to meet an attorney,” Ahn narrated. “The lawyer asked me if I wanted to sit in on a dress rehearsal. There was no one else in the theater. So I watched and when that second act scene two curtain came up, I was simply amazed. All I could picture was me singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ on stage.”

The three have performed in the production over the years, though not always together. Despite that, they all spoke with great admiration for Doucet’s production.

“The beauty is that we are really a machine but we also have to find something individualistic,” Belcher told OperaWire regarding the production’s approach to the famous trio. “These three are in many ways the throughline. We are always around and lurking. What I love so much is that we are crafting individual characters within the trio.”

As for how each views his character individually, the trio showed a unique perspective.

“Ping strives for balance.  Like my cohorts, we want nothing more than to go home.  All of the deaths and beheadings were not what I signed up for,” Belcher noted. ” I strive to be the peacekeeper not just in the kingdom, but between Pang and Pong. When Turandot accepts love, I finally feel free.”

For the artists, this opera has become somewhat of a calling card, with Ahn slated to perform the role of Pang over the next few years. But he doesn’t mind because he is extremely passionate about the character and music.

“I think the trio is the most beautiful music in this entire opera,” Ahn adamantly stated.




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