Condonnato! A morte! As predicted, Franco Zeffirelli’s exuberant production of Puccini’s Turandot, now playing at the Met, has been issued a death sentence. Unlike Fire Shut Up in My Bones, writes New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, which “attempt[s] to engage with the present moment, in all its roiling complexities,” the Zeffirelli Turandot puts Tommasini in mind of the “wave of anti-Asian hostility that has compelled the arts to re-examine lingering prejudices and racist stereotypes.”
Tommasini issues a reprieve to the music itself, but the “increasingly anachronistic” production must go, he says, since it fails to dispel what he sees as the story’s racist stereotypes, especially regarding the three ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong. Cue up the new and improved anti-colonialist Turandot!
There’s another way of responding to Zeffirelli’s production, however: with imaginative sympathy. It is faithful to Puccini’s intentions. No sane person would think that Asians are threatened by its portrayal of the ministers or by any of the other characters. Yet today’s political narcissism drags every artistic expression into a single narrative of oppression and discredits those that fail current standards of enlightenment. In this way is the human imagination constrained and crushed. See the Zefirelli Turandot now; this is your last chance.
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