Giuseppe Verdi


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Giacomo Puccini

Saturdee Opry Links # 87: "Turandot" Handicap

Turandot (Christine Goerke), Emperor Altoum (Mark Schowalter) and Calàf (Marcelo Álvarez) in Franco Zeffirelli’s Met staging of Turandot

Saturdee Opry Links Overture
Puccini: Preludio Sinfonico 

It's another SOL handicap, this time for Puccini's "Turandot." (Correctly pronounced "Turan DOH!", as it was in Puccini's day. Right, "Doh!" as in Homer Simpson, who stole it from James Finlayson.) So. . .

“Turandot,” is a fairy tale. It is a very good idea to bear this in mind, because the plot resolution is rather exasperating. The evil queen wins, and the girl-with-the-heart-of-gold dies---all in the interests of what Hollywood shitheads would term, "redemption." Puccini set about, in this, his last work, to be extremely modern in theme and orchestration (as he had, to a lesser extent, done with “La Fanciulla del West” some years earlier.”) The high points of “classic Puccini,” which is to say, lyrical Puccini, were, obvious to say, “Boheme” and “Butterfly.” In “Turandot,” you can hear intimations of Wagner and Debussy, as well as themes and moments that are downright dissonant, acknowledging the influence of Schoenberg, Berg, etc. Having the opera set in mythical China also helped with the other-worldly quality of the music. As you might know, three of the main themes in “Turandot” are Chinese, having been lifted from a music box Puccini heard. (He also used Japanese---and Chinese---melodies in “Butterfly.”) Here is an interesting article about that music box, and how Puccini adapted Chinese and Japanese music in “Turandot” and “Butterfly.” Also note in article, re: Butterfly, how Puccini deliberately made use of an old Chinese “erotic song.” Exclamation point.

Here are two of the big arias from Puccini's "Turandot:" the tender “Signore Ascolta,” and noble “Non Piangere Liu” (with English captions), sung by Roberto Alagna and (his wife) Aleksandra Kurzak. 
“Signore Ascolta”
• Setting : The streets of Peking
• Synopsis : Liù, the slave girl, Calaf and his father, Timur, are in the midst of a processional to the execution of the Prince of Persia who attempted to win the Princess Turandot by answering three riddles. If he had given the correct answers, he would have married the Princess, but the price for incorrectly answering them was having to watch 50 episodes of “American Idol,” or die. (All chose death.) During the processional, Calaf catches a glimpse of Turandot, falls in love with her immediately, and decides to attempt to answer the three riddles. Liù sings this aria to beg him not to risk his life for the Princess. Poor Liu!
“Non Piangere Liu”
Synopsis : After Liù begs him tearfully not to risk his life by playing a deadly game to win the Princess Turandot, Calaf responds to her gently, asking her not to weep. He shows her an episode of “American Idol,” but she only weeps more. (Okay, not really.)
Here is Jussi Bjorling with "Non Piangere Liu." 
And Maria Callas with "Signore Ascolta:" 

Here is the ice queen's big moment, “In Questa Reggia”:
Synopsis : Turandot warns Calaf of the danger of the deadly game of riddles he proposes to take part in to win Turandot in marriage. She explains to him that the game is to avenge her ancestress, who was killed when a warlord conquered her country. Kind of a Hatfields and McCoys thing. 
Here is Birgit Nilsson, who was legendary in the role: 
And with Giovanna Casolla, in the astounding production staged at the Forbidden City: 

Liu's final aria, "Tu Che di Gel Sei Cinta." ("You who are girded with ice.")
To Turandot's horror, Calaf does indeed answer all three riddles, and quite cleverly. Turandot panics, pleading with her father to be let out of the marriage bargain. Calaf crazily offers an alternative: if Turandot can guess his name before morning, he will agree to be executed. Pure logic! The wonderful Princess Turandot then tortures poor Liu to get her to cough up Calaf's name, but. . .nothin’ doin’.” Liu would rather die than betray him. Turandot demands to know how she resists the torture so well, and Liu replies that her love for the "Unknown Prince" keeps her loyal to him. She goes on to sing that Turandot's icy heart will one day be melted by Calaf and that Turandot will love him as Liù does now. She commits suicide. Here is Liu’s aria, sung by wonderful Leona Mitchell: 
AND, just for fun, here is exquisite Monserrat Caballe: 

And of course. . .the great, great aria that has been butchered by everyone from Michael Bolton to Aretha Franklin. . .
"Nessun Dorma" ("None shall sleep.")
Synopsis : A herald has just announced that no one will sleep in the Peking until the Calaf's name is known to the Princess--- under pain of death. Calaf, who knows that he has agreed to be killed if Turandot learns his name before the morning, is not worried. He is sure that he will be the only one to reveal his name to the Princess after morning has come, and that Her Icy Majesty will agree to be his wife. No accounting for taste!
Here are three versions:

Luciano Pavarotti, in a staged version used in his movie, "Yes, Giorgio:" 
Mario Lanza, on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, 1948: 
And the astonishing, largely forgotten Giuseppe Giocomini 

So is it "TuranDOT" or "TuranDOH?" Answer: Puccini and his contemporaries said "Doh!"---like Homer Simpson and the originator of the exclamation, James Finlayson. Here is Finlayson: 
And here is a link to a discussion of the subject: 

Puccini died before he could finish “Turandot.” He completed all of acts one and two, including orchestration, and act 3 up to the point of Liu’s death and funeral. From Wikipedia: "He left behind 36 pages of sketches on 23 sheets for the end of Turandot. Some sketches were in the form of 'piano-vocal' or 'short score,' including vocal lines with 'two to four staves of accompaniment with occasional notes on orchestration.' These sketches supplied music for some, but not all, of the final portion of the libretto." Although Puccini designated one Riccardo Zandonai to complete the opera based on his notes and sketches, Puccini’s son objected (!), and Franco Alfano---a successful operatic composer of the day---was chosen instead. Alfano wrote one version which was flatly rejected as being too Alfano and not enough Puccini by Puccini’s friend and champion, the conductor Arturo Toscanini. He wrote a second version which adhered, Toscanini felt, more closely to Puccini’s wishes---though the conductor still slashed three minutes out of it. This is the version that is commonly performed today. (Alfano’s original completion was recorded in 1990, and released to great critical acclaim. I have not heard it.) The composer, Luciano Berio, also completed the opera (as have others), and I did happen to attend the world premiere of this in L.A.. It was just. . .so wrong. It went from glorious Puccini lyricism to. . .just plain weird, 20th Century dissonance. Did not fit at all. A Chinese composer wrote an ending that plays up the Chinese theme from act one, as opposed to trading on the “Nessun Dorma” melody. It had merit, I thought, but Alfano’s “Nessun Dorma” ending really packs the most emotional punch. And here is the grand ending---or, endings---of "Turan-DOH!"

The Zeffirelli production, at the Met: 
And in Verona: 
The Forbidden City production: 
The Korean production with the non-"Nessun Dorma" ending that instead uses the Chinese theme from act one: 
The original uncut Alfano ending(!): 
The weird and inappropriate Berio ending: 

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
"Nessun Dorma," by Los Tres Tenores. 

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