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02/20/09 at 8 p.m.
02/22/09 at 2 p.m.
Opera in three acts
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni
World Première: April 25, 1926 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan
Princess Turandot (soprano)
The Emperor Altoum, her father (tenor)
Timur, the exiled King of Tartary (bass)
Calàf, his son (tenor)
Liù, a slave girl (soprano)
Ping, Grand Chancellor of China (baritone)
Pang, Supreme Lord of Provisions (tenor)
Pong, Supreme Lord of the Imperial Kitchen (tenor)
A Mandarin (baritone)
The Prince of Persia (tenor)
About the Opera
Turandot is every man's dream. All brave young men come to win her hand. Eligible bachelors beware! To win the "fair" maiden's hand, one has to pass the test of three riddles. Answer all three correctly and Turandot is won; one wrong answer - the penalty is death.
Calaf spies Turandot on her balcony. He falls in love instantly and decides to try his luck. Calaf answers each riddle correctly. Turandot says she would rather die than live with the shame of being wed to a foreign prince. Calaf offeres her a chance to avoid marriage. If she can guess his name, then he will bow out of the union. All of Peking is turned upside down as the Princess seeks the name of her suitor. She is foiled at every angle. In the end, she finds that love is the answer.
Turandot is the last opera written by Puccini (who also composed the popular operas La bohème and Madama Butterfly) and features the beloved aria, "Nessun dorma."
Turandot is destined by sacred oath to marry the man of royal blood who solves the three riddles she poses to him. If a man attempts and fails, he shall be beheaded. So far, all who have tried have failed.
Outside the imperial palace; sunset
A mandarin announces that the Prince of Persia will be beheaded this night, as he has failed to solve Turandot’s riddles. Whipped to a frenzy by this announcement, the crowd cries for the executioner. A young girl’s voice is heard over the confusion; it is that of a slave girl named Liù. Her companion, an old, blind, and feeble man, has been pushed down by the mob. A stranger hurries to their aid, and he recognizes the old man to be his long-lost father, Timur, the defeated Tartar king in exile. The old man recognizes the voice of the stranger to be that of his son, Prince Calaf, long believed killed in battle. Both realize the importance of keeping their identities unknown, as they fear the hatred of the Chinese rulers who usurped their throne. The old man relates how he would have perished had it not been for Liù, who helped him flee to Peking. “Liù, who are you?” asks the prince. “I am nothing, a slave, my lord.” “Why did you take on all this suffering for us?” “Because one day in the palace you smiled at me.”
The executioner’s assistants prepare for the execution and the crowd goes crazy (Gira la cote, gira, gira!). They are impatient for night to fall and the ensuing execution to come (Invocation to the Moon: Perchè tarda la luna?). The executioner, Pu-Tin-Pao, finally appears with his assistants, and the funereal procession accompanying the condemned man approaches. After seeing the failed prince, a handsome man clearly lost in his dream, the crowd has a change of heart: instead of being hungry for his execution, they feel pity for him. The crowd appeals to the unseen Turandot, begging for her pardon. The unknown prince also is overcome by pity for the doomed man and demands, “Princess, show yourself and let me curse you. Let me see the face of one so cruel.”
Turandot appears and the crowd prostrates itself. The unknown prince is overcome by Turandot’s beauty and falls in love with her. Turandot raises her hand: it is the gesture of final condemnation. The unknown prince laments of the divine beauty he has just seen, and decides to face the challenge of the three riddles. He is so taken by Turandot that he hardly hears his father’s plea for him to escape while he still can. The unknown prince calls out for Turandot just as the Prince of Persia is being executed, and dashes toward the gong to signal his request for Turandot’s riddles.
Many attempts are made to dissuade the unknown prince from inevitable failure to answer the riddles. Three men jump in his way; they are the three ministers, Ping, Pong, and Pang. Their attempt is in vain. The prince is egged on when he hears the voices of Turandot’s previous failed suitors. The old, feeble father tries to bring his son to reality, but fails. Liù adds her plea (Signore ascolta) and the prince tries to comfort her (Non piangere, Liù!). All entreaties fail to dissuade him. He runs toward the gong, yells out Turandot’s name, and, seizing the hammer, strikes the gong. The signal, announcing that a new suitor desires to take Turandot’s challenge, is heard by all.
A pavilion inside the imperial palace; the same evening
Ping, Pong, and Pang busy themselves with work of a typical day while under the reign of Turandot (Ministers’ Trio). They prepare for the possible events that could materialize from the trial of riddles: a wedding or a funeral. They fall to musing on China, which had slept tranquilly for eons until Turandot was born. They recount how the tumbling of heads began and note that there have been twenty-seven to date, including this latest one! They also pine for their former lives of leisure: Ping for his lake in Honan, Pong for his forests near Tsiang, and Pang for his gardens in Kiù. They long for the day when they might prepare the nuptial chamber for Turandot. From this dream of a better world, they are jarred to reality by the sound of trumpets. The three ministers go out to join the others. It is time for the new suitor to face the trial of riddles.
A vast hall in the imperial palace; sunrise
A crowd gathers (March of the Mandarins). The current suitor appears. Timur and Liù seem almost lost in the mass of people. The Emperor, sitting high on his throne, addresses the suitor and asks him to reconsider. The unknown prince demands to be put to the task. Three times the Emperor tries to dissuade him and three times the Prince insists. So be it, then!
The mandarin announces the start of the trial and Turandot appears. With an ice-cold glance she scans the figure of her latest suitor and addresses him (In questa Reggia). She proclaims that she will never be possessed by any man, in vengeance for the cruel murder of her ancestress. She threatens her current suitor: “Stranger, do not tempt fate; the riddles are three, death is one,” to which the suitor replies, “No! The riddles are three, life is one.”
Turandot poses the riddles. The unknown prince answers the first one easily: hope. The princess proceeds with the second and after a bit of hesitation, he replies: blood. Sensing that the foreigner is about to win, the crowd goes wild. Turandot poses the third riddle and at first, the prince seems lost. Despite encouragement from the crowd, it appears as if he is about to give up. But then, he offers a third correct answer: Turandot. The unknown prince has won but…
Turandot refuses to accept defeat. She begs her father to intercede, but he can’t; the vow that binds him is sacred and must be followed. Still, she remains defiant: neither this man, nor any other, shall ever posses her. Would he want her against her will or would he take her by force? No – he desires her, but only if she feels love for him. So, he proposes that he will release her from her end of the bargain if she can answer one riddle herself: “If you tell me my name before dawn, you are free from me. And at dawn, I shall die.” She accepts. The Emperor and the crowd unite in singing the praises of the victorious suitor.
In the palace gardens; that night
Heralds proclaim Turandot’s latest command: no one is to sleep in Peking tonight. The stranger’s name must be discovered, else all are to die. The unknown prince also is awake, waiting for dawn. He imagines feeling Turandot’s warm lips on his, finally freed of the icy grasp of hatred and indifference (Nessun dorma!).
Ping, Pong, and Pang appear. They offer the stranger women, jewels, and all kinds of riches provided that he reveals his name. He refuses all.
Guards drag Timur and Liù before the ministers, for they were seen speaking with the unknown prince and so must know his name. Ignoring the prince’s protests that they know nothing, the ministers and guards call for Turandot. To save Timur’s life, Liù states that she and she alone knows the stranger’s name, but she refuses to reveal it. She is tortured, but she continues to remain silent. Turandot is amazed: “What gives your heart the strength to endure this torture?” “Princess, it is my love.” “Love?” questions Turandot in a tone of wonder. A love, Liù confesses (Tanto amore seggreto), which is secret, unspoken, and offered without recompense. She bids the guards to bind and torture her.
Turandot’s softness lasts for only a moment. She demands that the guards tear the secret from the girl. The crowd calls for the executioner. When the executioner approaches, Liù turns once more to Turandot and begs to be heard (Tu che di gel sei cinta). “You will love him as I did; before the sun rises, I will have closed my eyes, so that he may remain victorious.” Saying so, she snatches a dagger from the belt of one of the guards and stabs herself. There is general shock from the crowd, and they cry in vain for her to “speak the name!” But Liù is dead and forever silent. The old man bends down and weeps for Liù, while Ping tries to comfort him. Liù’s body is carried away with the old man walking beside it. Turandot and the prince are left alone.
(Note: After composing the music through the death of Liù, Giacomo Puccini himself died on November 29, 1924. The work was completed by Franco Alfano. When conducting the première performance at La Scala, April 25, 1926, Arturo Toscanini stopped conducting at this point and left the performance unfinished. He turned to the audience and said “Here the opera finishes, because at this point the Maestro died.” It was probably the only time that Toscanini spoke publicly in a theatre and the only time the opera was performed without Alfano’s ending.)
The prince exhorts Turandot to be a woman. He reproaches her for her cruelty, but tells her that love can make her human. She still rebuffs him. In response, he takes her in his arms and kisses her. The kiss seals her fate: she who is bound by ice melts into the warmth of womanhood. She weeps, “dawn is here and my sun is setting,” and confesses that at first sight of him she loved him (Del primo pianto). She hated him, too, for his pride: she foresaw that he was destined to conquer. Now that he has conquered, she begs him not to humiliate her and asks him to leave without revealing his name. He offers her his life, telling her that he’s Calaf, son of Timur, the Tartar King. At this moment trumpets sound to signal that the appointed hour has come.
A vast hall in the imperial palace; sunrise
The Emperor, court, and people gather to hear whether Turandot is victorious or is defeated. Turandot speaks to her father: “I now know the foreigner’s name. His name… is Love.” The unknown prince, Calaf, rushes to her while the crowd cheers.
Artistic and Production Staff
Conductor – William Boggs
Director – John Hoomes
Othalie Graham – Turandot
Randolph Locke – Calaf
Diana McVey – Liu
Sun Yu – Timur
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