Turandot is Puccini’s opera performed live from the Forbidden City of Beijing and conducted by Zubin Mehta and performed by Giovanna Casolia, Sergej Larlin and Barbara Frittoil, includes the making of film which includes interviews, also a pure CD audio track, photo gallery & more.

The first DVD edition of Puccini’s last opera (left not quite complete at his death) immediately becomes the best available in any video format. It is likely to keep this status for quite a while, though the music comes across more powerfully in several audio-only editions.

The visual challenges of Turandot are formidable, and they are met spectacularly in this production, filmed on location in the Forbidden City, where the story takes place. Turandot is a princess to die for. Dozens of foreign princes have literally lost their heads after seeking her hand in marriage and failing to solve three riddles. Ideally, a Turandot should have the voice of Birgit Nilsson, she should have the looks and acting skills of Teresa Stratas in her prime, and it’s nice if she at least appears Chinese. Soprano Giovanna Casolla scores a B-plus on these requirements, and that’s about the best we can expect. Among other principals, tenor Sergej Larin sings well, looks right, and doesn’t really try to act (probably a wise decision). Soprano Barbara Frittoli is superb and the supporting cast is generally good. But what makes this production unique is the setting; you are there in ancient Peking, with its real buildings, flags, armor and uniforms, costumes, and statues of dragons and other legendary monsters.

This is one of the first operas intended for original release on DVD; others were initially issued in more limited formats and have kept their original limitations in the new format. The wider range of options on DVD is significant. Those who will settle for audio-only recordings, which cost about the same and offer much less, should try either of Birgit Nilsson’s CD editions (with Bj√∂rling or Corelli) or Joan Sutherland’s. Both of these great divas are, alas, visually inappropriate, offering another argument for this striking visual re-creation. —Joe McLellan.