Expect a culturally immersive experience when the Shanghai Opera House comes to Dubai this week.
Founded in 1956, it is China’s oldest opera institution, and throughout the years it has built a formidable repertoire fusing the East with the West.
Its latest production, Turandot, runs from Thursday, September 5 until Saturday, September 7. Turandot is the last major work by Puccini, and is based on a Persian collection of stories titled 1,001 Days. The plot is set in ancient Peking and follows Prince Calaf's epic attempt to win the heart of the icy Princess Turandot.
The production may have been performed by many of the world’s biggest opera companies, but according to Shanghai Opera House tenor Han Peng, who takes on the role of Calaf, audiences can expect a more authentic spin in Dubai.
"This version produced by Shanghai Opera House is a brand new one. [Through the] set and costumes, many Chinese elements are in this production," he says. "Turandot tells a story happening in China, so it must be more original with Chinese artists on stage."
When it comes to the show's longevity – it has been performed regularly since its rapturous debut in 1926 in Milan's Teatro alla Scala. Peng says its popularity derives from the balanced structure.
Everyone gets a chance to shine in Turandot.
"First of all, it is without any doubt that Puccini's music is successful and exquisite, with some elements of Chinese folk songs," he says. "Nearly every character in Turandot has beautiful arias, which makes it so loved among the audiences after all these years."
When it comes to his own role, Peng has the responsibility of delivering arguably the most emotional high point of the night, with the stirring aria Nessun Dorma. Translated to None Shall Sleep, the piece is performed in the final act, where Calaf is alone in the moonlit palace gardens. The lyrics add to his pained reflections on the unrequited love he has for the princess.
To say this heartbreaking lament took on a life of its own is an understatement. The aria nearly reached the top of the charts when a 1972 recording by Luciano Pavarotti was used as the theme song for the BBC's television coverage of the 1990 Fifa World Cup in Italy. The song was also covered by legendary guitarist Jeff Beck and trumpeter Chris Botti – they released instrumental versions in 2010 and 2007, respectively.
For Peng, the aria played a major role in elevating his career. He performed the piece as part of his performances to win the 2009 Turandot Opera Competition in Italy.
To deliver the aria the way it is intended, Peng says it requires a calm mind and a certain zeal. "This aria is very difficult with a lot of high pitches," he says. "It's definitely more difficult to approach in opera productions [than singing competitions], but I have this confidence, and will also perform in my style."
It is this sense of identity that Shanghai Opera House general director Xu Zhong hopes will distinguish this version of Turandot from the others.
“This new version, embellished by its magical sets and magnificent costumes, reinterprets the cross-cultural story after an entire century,” he says. “It takes on a unique charm by combining the Eastern and Western civilisations from the other side’s perspective.”
Turandot by Shanghai Opera House will be at Dubai Opera from today until Saturday at 8pm. Tickets cost from Dh300 from dubaiopera.com