Review: The Turandot Project (documentary) (2001)

Directed by:
Cast: ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Chinese and opera are not two words seen together that inspire a great deal of joy in my life. The clanging and screeching tend to more irritate than entertain whenever I am exposed to my cultural heritage. In contrast, I don’t mind an Italian opera or other operas of the western classical sensitivity.

So much for nature over nurture.

Well at the very least when it comes to musical taste. So a making of Turandot is something I don’t mind. Sure, I’d prefer to watch the actual production but damn those tickets are expensive. Added to that is the fact that Zhang Yimou is directing – the man who brought us such visual delights as Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad and the yet unseen Hero, and I’m thinking I really should get some paying gigs going to go see this production.

Of course this completely ignores the fact that this production staged in Beijing only and is long past its season. Still, I’m thinking my last thought has some merit.

Anyway, The Turandot Project is a very cool look at the production of Pucini’s Turandot as was directed by Zhang Yimou – something I would never have ever seen and been poorer for it. For, apart from the production itself, the documentary looks at the difference sensitivities and tastes of Italian opera versus Chinese sense of history and identity (For those who don’t know, Turandot is set in ancient China).

The documentary starts off rather blandly with the details of the production coming into effect and everyone praising each other and saying what a wonderful project this will be. It doesn’t really get interesting until the production arrives in Beijing and you get glimpses of the production values that went into this – because the costumes and visuals are spectacular, especially when set against the backdrop of the Forbidden City.

Of course it is the Forbidden City itself that remains the point of contention in through what is a pretty smooth production. The comment that the Chinese audience would be offended at seeing architecture and costumes from different eras in the one production was something that would never have occurred to me. It seems the entire point of the production from the Chinese contingent is to emphasise the Chinese participation in the project and promote Chinese culture in a way that is accessible to the west.

This of course I can’t really object to as, in my own way, it is something that I do by writing about Asian cinema – of which a pretty decent pertentage is from China (go figure). If it wasn’t for the fact that the work that the Chinese did was so amazing, it’d be hard to not brush this off as a propoganda film. The overall impression is that the Italians supplied the music and the Chinese the rest.

An example of this is the one personality clash in the entire production (despite all the Prima Donnas). Zhang Yimou and the lighting director just never see eye to eye and have different visions on how the opera should look. During the entire episode, the lighting director never comes out looking good and it’s really hard not to hate the guy for having professional tastes that clash with the director’s.

This does not undermine that there was a lot of hard work put into this project and it looked like it would have been an abolute joy to have seen. Unfortunately, the moment has passed and I must be satisfied to being this close to heaven.

8 Arias that remind me of NZ out of 10.
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