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Turandot

Currently playing at La Scala, Milan.

A controversial opera, yet always listing amongst the most performed, Turandot is a powerful opera that has different endings depending on the producer. Puccini declared that he had put his soul into this work and considered it his best, although it was unfinished on his death.

The purist’s version will end with Liu’s death as this is where Puccini left it when he died. He asked his pupil (Franco Alfani) to continue it and so we get the alternative where all ends well.

A foreign prince arrives at a scene in China where a crowd has assembled to watch the death of another prince who has asked for Princess Turandot’s hand in marriage. He was killed as he had to correctly answer three riddles in order to marry the Princess or die if he got one wrong. Princess Turandot was a man hating spinster who had sworn revenge for her ancestor’s death at the hand of a foreign royal who had raped and killed her whilst attempting an overthrow of her reign. Princess Turandot swore that no man would touch her.

The foreign prince spots his father, who has been exiled, in the crowd with Liu who looks after him and helps Liu when the crowd jostle and knock his father over. When the foreign prince witnesses the death he catches a glimpse of Princess Turandot and falls in love (or lust); his father and Liu (the father’s carer) who is in love with the prince warn him not to go near her as do Ping, Pang and Pong (comically archetypal Chinese of the 19th century). 

The prince however knows better and does indeed answer the riddles correctly, but Turandot reneges on the deal. The prince is desperate to marry her and tries to impress her with a riddle of his own. He allows her until dawn to guess his name and if she does he will die.  

Princess Turandot desperately sends her people out into the night to seek out the Prince’s name and defies anybody to sleep whilst the hunt is on. They find the old man (his father) and Liu after people remember seeing them talking together and threaten to torture the old man when Liu steps forward and says that only she knows the Prince’s name but will never reveal it to them because she loves him, so they torture her, but eventually she manages to grab a dagger and kill herself. As people move away to form a funeral procession Princess Turandot and the Prince are left together and he reaches for her and kisses her – she is moved by strange emotions for the first time and she tells the emperor that she knows her prince’s name and it is “love”.

This Opera was not allowed to be performed in China until 1998 as they felt that it did not show them in the best light! However in April 1998 it was performed but only in the “forbidden city” Peking – now Beijing. These days it plays all over the world and has showcased world leading singers and an extraordinary orchestra featuring Gongs, xylophones, tubular bells and

woodblocks in all versions of it! It is believed that Puccini’s story is based on the Arabian Thousand and One Night’s and converted into magical music influenced by his friend’s musical box. It has well recognised wonderful chorus passages, and even comedy with the ludicrous Ping, Pang and Pong’s debate on marriage and execution.

Please check the destinations to see when and where this particular opera is on this year

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