York Opera in Turandot; Theatre Royal, York – November 8 Further performances Wed & Fri (7.15pm), Sat (4pm) York Opera took no time to decide what to stage this year. But Puccini’s final opera, based on the tragic-comic fairy-tale by Carlo Gozzi, is no piece of cake, especially for an amateur company. Turandot, the princess of the title, is one of the toughest challenges facing a dramatic soprano.

When you have a singer of the calibre of Ione Cumming to deliver it, you are already halfway there; Clive Marshall’s astute production does the rest. Besides, the work has resonances for York Opera. Thirty years ago it was their entrée into the Theatre Royal. Today it also celebrates the company’s 50 years in business. For behind all the glamour and greasepaint, it is a business, financial as well as theatrical.

One of the secrets of this company’s survival has been to design and build all its own sets, while creating its own costumes, tasks that presently fall to the ever-reliable John and Maggie Soper respectively. John’s set here amply reflects the power-structure of ancient China: a pyramid of red blocks, edged in black and gold, atop which sits the Emperor Altoum. Maggie’s costumes are similarly distinctive: luxuriant brocades and face-paint for the ruling classes, cloaks and simple mob caps for the plebs.

York Press:

Hamish Brown, as Pong, left, Ian Thomson-Smith, as Ping, and Kevin de Sabbata, as Pang, in Turandot. Picture: Nigel Lindley

Another strength, as so often with this company, is the orchestra under Alasdair Jamieson, almost 50 players including extra, offstage brass, revelling in their newly spacious pit. Occasionally they are a little too boisterous, but the brass and xylophone have a field day and generally there is finesse and grace. Their finale was majestic.

Miss Cumming’s Turandot is a revelation, icily proud until melted by Calaf, while producing oceans of rich tone that easily surmounts the orchestra in full flood. This is a performance of professional quality. Her Calaf is Benjamin Pieper, who covers the ground with assurance. He has a tendency to force his tone rather than float it, and he leaves his highest notes, in Nessun Dorma for example, a little too hastily, but he has good stage presence.

York Press:

Opera on a grand scale: York Opera's 50th anniversary production of Turandot

Anjuli Mehta’s slave-girl Liù grows in confidence as the evening progresses, until approaching death she finds unsuspected resonance. She is a promising talent. The commedia dell’arte trio, nicely led by Ian Thomson-Smith’s Ping, backed up by Kevin de Sabbata and Hamish Brown as Pang and Pong, amply mine the nostalgic humour at the start of Act 2. Steve Griffiths makes a determined figure of Timur, the dethroned Tartar.

The chorus is a tower of strength and confidence, moving with unfussy precision, and the children’s choir is well-blended and disciplined. Sensibly the three principles are double-cast: Julia Ledger (Turandot), Karl Reiff (Calaf) and Elisha Lofthouse (Liù) sing tonight and Friday. It is a joy to commend this show, a fitting testimony to the noble role York Opera has played in our great city these 50 years.

York Opera presents Turandot at York Theatre Royal, tonight and Friday, 7.15pm; Saturday, 4pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk