Special Sub-Topic: Puccini's "Turandot"
|The libretto of Puccini's opera was based on a story from a collection of fables by which celebrated Italian author?|
Carlo Gozzi. Gozzi was an 18th-century Venetian author best known for his collection of stories entitled "Fabia" ("Fables"). These were collected from various sources: the "Turandot" story was from a collection of Persian tales (Persia was once invaded and occupied by the Chinese under Genghis Khan, with the result that certain Chinese folk tales and legends passed into the lore of the Middle East, the best-known example being "Aladdin"). Renato Simoni, the playwright and librettist who would ultimately collaborate with Giuseppe Adami on the libretto of "Turandot", presented Puccini with a copy of Gozzi's dramatization of the story (two more of Gozzi's stories became operas; "La Donna Serpente" was the source of the libretto for Wagner's early opera "Die Feen" and another, "L'Amore delle Tre Melarance", provided the plot for Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges"). Certain elements of the story, particularly the three riddles, appear in various legends and myths throughout history, such as the Theban legend of Oedipus and the questioning Sphinx and the beginning of Shakespeare's play "Pericles, Prince of Tyre", which features a princess who questions her suitors (in this case, the final question hints at an incestuous relationship between the princess and her father). There may also have been a real-life prototype for the formidable princess: Marco Polo's writings relate the story of a warrior princess of Samarkand whose suitors were required to engage her in combat.
|Puccini's "Turandot" was actually the second operatic treatment of this subject; an earlier version had premiered in 1917. Which of these celebrated Italian composers wrote this version?|
Ferruccio Busoni. Busoni was a contemporary of Puccini's (they died in the same year: 1924) and a fellow Tuscan, though he lived in Germany and wrote his operas in the German language. He is perhaps best known for his piano music, though his operas have many admirers, particularly "Doktor Faust", which recently had its long-overdue premiere at the Metropolitan Opera. His version of "Turandot" adheres more closely to Gozzi's original; the princess is less glacial and formidable than she became in Puccini's treatment; the Emperor Altoum, Turandot's father, is a wiser and more influential character than Puccini's largely impotent and feeble monarch. Most importantly, the character of Liu, largely a Puccinian invention, does not exist, fixing most of the libretto's sympathy and focus on the princess. There is, in Gozzi's play and Busoni's opera, a character named Adelma from which the character of Liu was partially developed. Adelma is Turandot's favorite servant; she falls in love with the prince herself and learns his identity, which she reveals to the princess, who by that time has already fallen in love with him. Busoni's opera premiered in 1917; to add an authentic Oriental flavor to the score, the composer added some Eastern melodies from Rousseau's "Dictionnaire de Musique". Also used in the score, oddly enough, is the English folk tune "Greensleeves", which Busoni felt had a somewhat Oriental flavor. Prior to Busoni's opera, the celebrated 19th-century composer Carl Maria von Weber had written incidental music for Schiller's dramatization of the story.
|The tragic character of Liu, the selfless, devoted servant girl in love with Calaf, is an invention of Puccini's librettist; she does not exist in either the original story or the first operatic version. Puccini's biographers generally agree that this role was created in honor of a similarly tragic woman in Puccini's life; who was she?|
His maid, Doria Manfredi. Doria Manfredi was a 16-year-old girl who came to work for the Puccini family as a servant and nursemaid in 1903, when Puccini was suffering from diabetes and recovering from a severe automobile accident. Doria's devotion and attentions to the ailing composer aroused the ire of his wife Elvira, whose jealous and suspicious nature was legendary (and often justified). Eventually, her jealousy of Doria reached boiling point and she dismissed the girl from the household. Even after this, Elvira was convinced that Doria was still meeting her husband in secret, and she went so far as to wander the grounds of the Torre del Lago dressed in Puccini's clothes, hoping that Doria would approach her and thus be caught out. Elvira also took to stalking Doria around town and loudly abusing her in public, threatening to drown her in the lake if she caught her with her husband. Eventually, Doria cracked under the strain of this persecution and swallowed poison, from which she died after five agonizing days. A post mortem ordered by her grieving and enraged family revealed her to have still been a virgin. Elvira was sued by Doria's family and was actually sentenced to a short prison term, but Puccini settled the matter with the family out of court. The incident nearly ended the Puccinis' always tumultuous marriage and deeply affected the composer for some time thereafter. The character of the devoted and tragic servant girl Liu, who replaced the far different character of the scheming Adelma in Gozzi's original, is generally believed to have been a homage to the ill-fated Doria.
|The opera opens with the announcement of the impending execution of the Prince of Persia, who has failed to answer Turandot's three riddles. When will his execution take place?|
At the rising of the moon. After the Mandarin's pronouncement, a riot ensues among the bloodthirsty crowd which is put down by the guards; in the fray, the elderly Timur is knocked to the ground and Liu tries to get him to his feet, whereupon Calaf appears. The executioner's sword is sharpened on the wheel as the crowd sings the ferocious chorus "Gira la cote!", describing the unending flow of blood that has marked the reign of Turandot. The mood suddenly changes as the crowd waits impatiently for the rising of the moon and sings the beautiful chorus "Perche tarda la luna?" ("Why is the moon so late?").
|Among the crowd is the prince Calaf, travelling in disguise since the violent overthrow of his father's kingdom. Calaf is overjoyed to discover his father Timur, now old and blind, in the crowd. Timur is accompanied by the servant girl Liu, who has been his faithful companion in exile. Calaf asks Liu why she has chosen to share such hardship when she could have escaped to her own country; what reason does she offer?|
Calaf had once smiled at her. Liu has been in love with the prince since the day when, as a slave in Timur's palace, he smiled at her. At the end of her Act I aria "Signore Ascolta", she reminds him of this and tells him that, if he loses his life in the pursuit of Turandot, Timur will once again lose his son and she herself will lose the image of his smile ("Io, l'ombra d'un sorriso").
|Calaf, to the despair of Liu and Timur, catches a glimpse of the fatal princess Turandot when she appears before the execution of the Prince of Persia; he falls instantly in love with her. What caused the princess to appear?|
Calaf asked her to show herself so he could curse her for her cruelty. When the Prince of Persia appears, the crowd is suddenly moved to pity by his extreme youth and begins to plea that his life be spared. The bold Calaf calls loudly for the princess to appear so that he can curse her publicly for her cruelty. Eventually the cries of both the prince and the chorus have their effect and Turandot does appear; unmoved, she signals for the execution to continue. Calaf is entranced by her beauty and falls instantly in love; interestingly, he makes no further entreaties on behalf of the Prince of Persia and takes no further notice of him until his final cry of "Turandot!", cut short by the executioner's sword, is heard offstage.
|Calaf, determined to win the princess for himself, rushes to sound the gong that will announce his willingness to undergo the test of the Three Riddles. To his great consternation, he finds his way barred by Turandot's three ministers, Ping, Pang, and Pong, who try their best to discourage him from seeking to be Turandot's husband. What does Ping urge him to do instead?|
Take a hundred wives. The three ministers are the equivalent of the comic "maschere" of traditional Venetian drama (rather like "commedia dell'arte" figures). Pong and Pang are tenors, Ping is a baritone (the great Giuseppe De Luca created this role in the 1926 premiere). To dissuade Calaf from his pursuit of Turandot, Ping advises him: "Leave women alone! Or take a hundred wives. For, after all, even the most sublime Turandot in the world has but one face, two arms, and two legs; beautiful, yes, and regal, but always the same! With a hundred wives, fool, you'll have abundant legs, two hundred arms, and a hundred sweet bosoms scattered over a hundred beds."
|Despite the best efforts of Ping, Pang, and Pong, Calaf sounds the gong and offers to try to solve the three riddles. In the first scene of Act II, the three ministers prepare for what they are certain will be yet another execution. According to the three, how many have been executed thus far?|
13. According to the three ministers, by the year of the Mouse there were six victims, by the year of the Dog there were eight; now, in the terrible year of the Tiger, they have already reached the dread number of thirteen. There follows a lengthy trio, which includes some of the best music in the opera, in which the three ministers ruefully reminisce about their former lives before they became "ministri del boia" ("ministers of the executioner"). They recall some of Turandot's more memorable suitors/victims, and fantasize about how wonderful it would be to celebrate the princess's wedding, instead of another funeral.
|The Emperor Altoum of China, Turandot's father, appears and tries three times to dissuade Calaf from proceeding with the test. By what title does Calaf address the Emperor?|
Figlio del Cielo (Son of Heaven). Three times, Calaf makes his entreaty to the Emperor: "Figlio del Cielo, io chiedo d'affrontar la prova!" ("Son of Heaven, I beg you to let me try my fortune!"). Each time the kindly and venerable, but ultimately ineffectual Emperor (the fact that everyone keeps referring to the "reign of Turandot" is certainly suggestive) begs Calaf not to burden himself and the kingdom with his (Calaf's) death, to no avail. Finally, the Emperor resignedly declares "Straniero, ebbro di morte! E sia! Si compia il tuo destino!" ("Stranger, in love with death! So be it! I leave you to your destiny!")
|Turandot then appears and, in the aria "In Questa Reggia", explains the reason for her hatred of men and her resolution never to belong to any man. What is her reason?|
The brutal overthrow of one of her female ancestors. Turandot recalls that thousands of years before, her ancestress Princess Lou-Ling ruled in peace and serenity, defying the tyranny of man. Tragically, her kingdom was invaded by the barbarous Tartars (Calaf is himself a Tartar prince), who dragged the gentle young princess away into the night and, presumably, raped and murdered her (Turandot only states that her "young voice was stifled"). To avenge the death of this gentle creature so many years ago, Turandot is determined to wreak revenge on the many princes who come from near and far to seek her hand in marriage.
|To the delight of everyone but the princess herself, Calaf successfully answers the dreaded Three Riddles and may rightfully claim Turandot as his wife. What were the answers to Turandot's three riddles?|
Hope, Blood, and Turandot. Question 1.- "In the dark night flies a many-hued phantom. It soars and spreads its wings above humanity. The whole world invokes and implores it. Each morning it vanishes, to be renewed in men's hearts. Every night, it is reborn; every morning, it dies" (answer: Hope).
Question 2.- "It burns like a flame, but is not a flame. At times, it is a delirium, a fever, a passion. Inertia makes it languish, if you lose heart or die it turns cold, but dreams of glory cause it to flare up. You heed its voice in trepidation; it glows like the setting sun." (answer: Blood).
Question 3.- "Ice which sets you aflame, and which your flame freezes still more. White and yet dark, if it frees you, it makes you a slave; if it accepts you as a slave, it makes you a King!" (answer: Turandot!).
|Turandot begs her father not to force her to honor her vow and marry the victorious Calaf. Calaf then offers her a challenge of his own: he will forfeit his life if the princess can discover his name. What is his reason for doing this?|
He does not want to have Turandot against her will. After Calaf solves the third and final riddle, Turandot begs her father to release her from her obligation to marry the foreign prince. The emperor refuses, but Calaf, not wanting to marry the princess against her will, offers her a counter-challenge: She does not yet know his name - if she can discover it before dawn, he will offer himself to the executioner.
|Calaf's celebrated aria "Nessun Dorma", possibly Puccini's best-known aria for the tenor voice, occurs soon after the beginning of Act III. However, the principal tune of the aria ("Ma'il mio mistero e' chiusa in me") is heard in the orchestra near the end of Act II.|
t. The music of the line "Ma il mio mistero e' chiusa in me" from "Nessun Dorma" is played by the orchestra while the prince makes his challenge to Turandot to discover his name before dawn.
|Immediately after "Nessun Dorma", Ping, Pang, and Pong appear and try alternately to plead with and bribe Calaf to reveal his name to them and renounce Turandot, who has vowed widespread bloodshed and torture if the unknown prince's name is not discovered by dawn. Which of these do they NOT offer to the prince if he tells them his name?|
Fine clothing. The three ministers present Calaf with a bevy of beautiful women; when he rejects these, they present baskets of costly jewels of every kind. When Calaf rejects these as well, they offer to help him escape to a foreign country and obtain for him a position of power. When this too fails, they resort to pleading, describing the torments and bloodshed that Turandot will inflict on them and her subjects if she does not discover the prince's name. Calaf resolutely remains deaf to all bribes and entreaties.
|It is discovered that Liu and Timur are associated with Calaf and therefore probably know his name. When they are brought before Turandot, the brave Liu insists that she alone knows the prince's name and refuses, even under threat of torture, to reveal it. Afraid that she may be unable to endure the torments that she is threatened with, Liu siezes a dagger from one of the guards and stabs herself. Upon discovering that Liu is dead, the grief-stricken Timur warns that the innocent girl's spirit may seek revenge on those responsible for her death. Tenderly, the crowd lifts Liu's body and bears it offstage, singing a moving funeral march. Timur follows alongside Liu's corpse, singing that he will join her "in the night which knows no dawn". This is, in fact, Timur's last appearance in the opera.|
y. The libretto makes no mention of any appearance by Timur from this point on; he is not mentioned as being present in the triumphant final scene. This abrupt departure of Calaf's father from the opera has been noted by a number of commentators and remains something of a puzzlement; does he, in fact, die alngside Liu? If so, why isn't this mentioned, and why doesn't it cast a pall over the prince's final triumph? If Timur is still alive, why isn't he at least present in the final scene? There seems to be no satisfactory answer.
|"Turandot" was originally planned as a two-act opera. Puccini's decision to add an extended scene for Liu, in which she is tortured and commits suicide, prompted the addition of the ultimately unfinished third act.|
t. Puccini's earliest communications with his collaborators indicate that the chief attraction that the "Turandot" story had for him was the character of the princess herself, and her metamorphosis from glacial, man-hating virgin to a passionate woman, deeply in love. The opera was to have ended with Calaf's victory and Turandot's realization of her love. Over time, however, Puccini seems to have become more and more enamored of the servant girl Liu, who typifies the classic Puccini heroine far better than the steely Turandot. Puccini's ultimate decision to have Liu subjected to torture and commit suicide rather than betray Calaf (which he thought would help make Turandot's final capitulation more plausible) necessitated an additional act in order to be completely developed. Some have criticized this, arguing that for Calaf to continue his pursuit of Turandot after she has caused the innocent Liu's death is unconscionable and undermines any sympathy the audience might have for him. Others, notably Conrad L. Osborne and Albert Innaurato, have pointed out that neither Turandot nor Calaf are at all likeable and that Puccini's own sympathies, quite understandably, lay with the servant girl. It is a fact that Puccini struggled mightily with the denouement of the opera after Liu's death; he rejected several drafts of the libretto for the final scene and his failure to complete more than a few sketches can only partly be excused by the illness (cancer of the larynx) that ultimately claimed his life.
|The third and final act of Turandot was left unfinished upon Puccini's death in 1924. Which composer was chosen to complete the score from the composer's extremely fragmentary sketches?|
Franco Alfano. Alfano was ultimately chosen for the difficult and thankless task of completing the opera from the fragmentary sketches left by the composer. The (then) nearly fifty-year-old composer has sometimes mistakenly been referred to as a "student" of Puccini's; actually he was a fairly accomplished operatic composer in his own right, though his works have not survived the test of time. Arturo Toscanini, a friend of Puccini's (the composer's remains were temporarily interred in the Toscanini family vault after the funeral) and the designated conductor for the opera's premiere, favored Ricardo Zandonai (best known for the opera "Francesca da Rimini"), but was overruled (Puccini had never cared for Zandonai's music, a fact which some of the other decision makers may have recalled). Perhaps because of this, he ruthlessly cut Alfano's final act (which he considered too long) into the version usually heard today.
|Puccini incorporated actual Chinese melodies into the score of Turandot.|
t. Baron Fassini Camossi, the former Italian diplomat to China, gave Puccini as a gift a music box which played a number of Chinese melodies. Puccini used three of these in the opera, including the national hymn (heard during the appearance of the Empero Altoum) and, most memorably, the folk melody "Mo-li-hua" ("Jasmine Flower") which is first heard sung by the children's chorus after the invocation to the moon in Act I, and becomes a sort of 'leitmotif' for the princess throughout the opera.
|Although the opera was completed from Puccini's sketches, this completed version was not heard at the premiere, which ended with Liu's funeral march.|
t. At the premiere, when the final notes of Liu's funeral march died away, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience, and said "Here, the master laid down his pen." The completed version, with Alfano's final scene, was performed on subsequent evenings.
|"Turandot" premiered at La Scala on April 25, 1926, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. What notable personage had announced his intention to attend the premiere but, ultimately, decided not to do so?|
Benito Mussolini. Mussolini had announced his intention to honor the premiere of Turandot with his presence, provided that the Fascist anthem "Giovinezza" be played before the performance. Toscanini, who had earlier supported Mussolini, was an avowed foe of the dictator by 1926 and had refused to perform the Fascist anthem two years before when a mob of blackshirts had invaded La Scala and demanded that he do so. The fiery Maestro announced to the management that if, indeed, the anthem must be played, they would have to find another conductor for the premiere. The contretemps was eventually resolved when Mussolini, with uncharacteristic tact, decided against making an appearance, since it would distract attention from the late composer's work, which he said should receive all the attention. Thus music, for once, won out over politics.
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