Large?scale collaborative art forms are usually effective to the extent they are able to retain the vision of one individual artist and, in opera like film, this is usually the director. But like film, occasionally the use of color and space, i.e., the design, are what stand out above all else. Such is the case with famed British artist David Hockney’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” which first blazed an unparalleled trail of vivid and glorious color at the Civic Opera House in 1992, returned for an even more striking revival in 1997, and is back to open and close the 2006-7 season. Confronted with Lyric Opera’s cavernous stage size, most designers give up in despair and take a minimalist approach where they leave us with an overabundance of empty space. Yet what is astonishing about Hockney’s production—and make no mistake, it is Hockney’s production all the way: he even designed the stunning costumes—is how that huge stage is actually made to seem small; the colorful spaces of Hockney’s fairy?tale China seem to extend far beyond the mere window that the stage shows us. There are so many memorable images: the gradual appearance of moonlight, the paper lanterns in the forest, Chinese wall murals that come to life and a finale so ablaze with dazzling reds that the stage appears to be glowing under its own power. If soprano Andrea Gruber doesn’t have the acting chops of Eva Marton, who sang the title role in the original production, nor the beauty of sound of Gabrielle Schnaut, who sang in the revival, her volume is formidable, as is that of Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine as her suitor. Still, it is Donald Palumbo’s chorus that steals the show musically. (Dennis Polkow)
Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. Sun/2pm, Wed/2pm, Sep 30 & Oct 3/7:30pm. $31-$179.