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Iranian Turandot disarms with engaging music. But Puccini remains undefeated

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It is quite daring. To take a classic Italian opera and give it a 'primal version'. I know a small army of militant opera critics who would prefer to take up arms against that. If that also comes from Iran, you soon have the puppets dancing.

Just to take the first tension out of the air right away: Turan Dokht, played last night in the Muziekgebouw, does not live up to Puccini's Turandot. That classic is also too embedded in our genome for that. That nineteenth-century opera has everything you need to move the widest possible audience to tears, and also put them on the edge of their seats musically. That the libretto is based on a medieval Persian fairy tale is then unfortunate for the Persians. That damned Italian has also transferred it to China, of all places.


Still, I sat for an hour and a half on Wednesday night watching, but mostly listening to the Iranian version of the opera, rather enthralled. Miranda Lakerveld, who does this kind of archaeological opera work quite often, has assembled an extremely interesting ensemble, and the composer, Aftab Darwishi, is a very important element of it.

She provided the original fairy tale, which is a bit more mystical than Puccini's well-known version, with music that is a mix of traditional Iranian instrumentation, folk song sounds and Western melodies. This is certainly exciting and delivers a musical journey through ten centuries of history and ten thousand kilometres of Silk Road.


That the acting of the extraordinarily engaging singers and that one singer does not really reach the graduation level of the Maastricht Drama Academy is not even a big deal. What counts here is ambition and conviction. And love. Which overcomes boycotts.

The greatest guts the composer shows towards the end, when she directly quotes Puccini for a few bars. Then you suddenly hear that melody that makes everyone cry by default, although many uncles who sing it during the washing-up will not realise that it comes from Turandot. It's a beautiful ode, performed by an ensemble that doesn't want to pee all over Puccini, but wants to put a little gem next to it. They succeeded - thanks to that modesty.

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Turan Dokht is yet to be seen: 6 June at the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ. Information.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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