Major Operas | Turandot by Giacomo Puccini | Turn of the Century

Puccini spent the last five years of his life working on Turandot. He patched up his differences with Adami who, together with Renato Simoni, got to work on creating a libretto from Carlo Gozzi’s fairy-tale.

Through the usual prevarications, doubts and rows, Puccini slowly worked on the score. At the beginning of 1924, he began to complain of a sore throat. He retired to a spa town for recuperation but no improvement came and in late autumn came the news that he was suffering from cancer. Treatment proceeded and was thought to be successful until suddenly, on 29 November, Puccini died.

The task of completing Turandot fell to Franco Alfano, whose version is most often heard today. The premiere was conducted by Toscanini who, at the point where Puccini’s music came to an end, turned to the audience and quietly announced the fact. There followed a hushed silence into which someone cried ‘Viva Puccini!’ and the entire audience burst into shouts and applause.

Without doubt, Turandot is an extraordinary work. Its harmony demonstrates Puccini’s continued desire to expand his expressive palette and the construction of large-scale blocks of music shows an astonishing dramatic and musical mastery.

Composed: 1920–26
Premiered: 1926, La Scala, Milan
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, after Carlo Gozzi’s fairy-tale

Act I

Within the Imperial City in Peking, a Mandarin announces that the Prince of Persia is to be executed. He is the latest royal suitor to fail to answer the three riddles that would win the Princess Turandot in marriage. The crowd rushes forward, knocking over a blind old man. Liù, a slave girl, calls for help and a man appears, who recognizes the blind man as his father, Timur, the exiled King of Tartary. They are both in disguise. Timur describes how Liù has helped him, all because the prince once smiled at her. The people are waiting for the next execution. When they see the victim, however, they call on Turandot for mercy, but she silently signals the execution. The prince, intending to curse her, has been smitten by her beauty. Timur urges him to stop, but he rushes towards the great gong in the courtyard. He is intercepted by the emperor’s ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, who graphically describe the fate of failed suitors.

Still enraptured at Turandot’s beauty, the prince sees their ghosts on the ramparts. Liù pleads with him and he asks her to look after Timur, whatever happens. Nothing can hold him back. He strikes the gong three times, announcing that he is the next suitor.

Act II

The ministers are preparing for a wedding or a funeral. Each describes the country home he hopes to see again, if only a suitor were to solve the riddles. This is the twenty-seventh prince to try. Perhaps he may be the one to bring the slaughter to an end.Emperor Altoum, enthroned high above the square, tries to dissuade the prince. Turandot, resplendent and icy, explains how a...

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