For its fifth Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Opera Australia chose Puccini’s Turandot, set in a fantasy China. Spectacle is a pre-requisite for the stunningly located outdoor event, and Chinese-American director Chen Shi-Zheng delivers striking visual effects without resorting to tacky glitz, while his martial-arts inspired choreography enhances the clear story-telling.

Dan Potra’s design is dominated by two set pieces: a giant, fire-breathing dragon and a towering, spiky pagoda, from where the frosty-hearted Princess Turandot looks down on the execution of the suitors who fail to solve her riddles. Scott Zielinski’s imaginative lighting add lashings of colour.

Serbian dramatic soprano Dragana Radakovic is an impressive, imperious Turandot with a powerhouse voice, which has a steely glint. As Calaf, Italian tenor Riccardo Massi is a commanding presence. At six foot four he is every inch the romantic hero, giving a passionate, lyrical portrayal, matched by rich, bronzed vocals. Hyeseoung Kwon is very moving as the slave girl Liù. The chorus is also outstanding, while the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra gives a good account of the gorgeous score under Brian Castles-Onion.

Fine camera work makes the most of the spectacular location, while close-ups of the performers add to the experience.

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