I just was hearing at Puccini’s Turandot this last days in the version of Zubin Mehta, with Sutherland and Pavarotti in the main roles.
The classical recordings of Turandot are recordings with singers having heavier voices than the singers here. Generally, too light voices leads to poor recording, as the color of the voice does not suit the roles. Here, this is not the case. Sutherland, which is definitively very far from Birgit Nilsson (one of the star Turandots of the 50s and 60s), achieves to be a credible Turandot, even if when you hear carefully to it, you may hear that the tessitura is difficult for her. She uses very well the fact, that a studio recording may correct a possible lack of voice strength, as she never sings above of her capacities, which is the sign of a very good maitrise of singing techniques.
Pavarotti here is the counter part of Sutherland. For me, Pavarotti achieves technically the same as Sutherland, even if his voice was probably not so light as often written. This Calaf is technically perfect, the voice is always placed as it should, the upper harmonics are very present, enabling him to get a kind of “percussion” that may lack in comparison to the classical Calafs, Corelli or Domingo later on. For me, as very often, the emotion comes from the score, Pavarotti being a very good servant of it. It lacks a kind of magic, being more on the “impressing” side of singing…
Ghiaurov as Timur has a huge, impressive voice. It is not very differentiated, but his singing is thrilling. Caballe is a very nice Liu. Even if she sang Turandot later in her career, and thus has a much heavier voice than Sutherland, her technique, and her “floated” notes allows to make a very differentiated Liu.
Ping, Pang and Pong (Krause, Poli, de Palma) are very well sung, there is enough humor in it.
But, the main role here is in my sense definitively Zubin Mehta. He creates a cohesion between the different singers, mastering the volume and complexity of this Opera. The playing is on the objective side, precision is one goal, and in the case of Turandot, this is a good thing. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the choirs and the recording technique are the perfect servants of this vision.
At the end, even if I’m always suspicious as this recording would not have been possible in live, the illusion created here deserves certainly a status as reference recording.