Events take place in China «in the legendary time».
Mandarin announces that anyone who wishes to win the hand of
Princess Turandot must solve three riddles. If there is no answer at least to one of them, he will be executed. The Persian Prince has failed and he is to be beheaded at dawn.
In turmoil an old man is knocked down – he is a deposed blind Khan of Tartary, Timur. His young slave girl Liu tries to raise her master, but everything is in vain. A young man comes to help her. This is Calaf, Timur’s only son.
The prince of Persia appears. Vainly the crowd begs for mercy – there is no compassion, no regret, no love in the heart of Turandot.
Calaf, struck by the beauty of the princess, is about to ask for her hand. Ministers Ping, Pang and Pong are trying to dissuade the man, and Liu makes a declaration of love to him. However, Calaf blinded by the beauty of Turandot, takes the brutal challenge of destiny. He hits the gong three times – a sign that a new suitor for the hand and heart of the princess has appeared.
The three ministers of the imperial court sigh about the fate of China, which suffers from the whims of Turandot. They dream of a quick return to a quiet life.
The old emperor tries to talk Calaf out of competing, but he is unwavering. Turandot explains her hatred for men. She tells the story of the princess, belonging to her dynasty – Lo-u-Ling, which was disgraced by a foreign invader. In the name of the entire dynasty, the princess should take revenge on men.
Calaf guesses Turandot’s riddles. The crowd is glad, but Turandot asks the emperor not to let her marry the foreigner. Son of Heaven does not agree, but Calaf does not want to make the princess be with him by force. He makes a condition: if by the sunrise the girl is called his name – he will die.
The sunset at the walls of the imperial palace. Heralds call out that nobody should sleep this night – it is necessary to know the name of the unknown prince.
Ping, Pang and Pong promise Calaf riches if he reveals his name. Meanwhile, the guard arrests Timur and Liu – the people who have been seen with Calaf. To deprive his old master of torture, Liu announces that she is the only one who knows the name of the prince, but in order not to betray it, the brave girl kills herself. The crowd carries her body, so Calaf and Turandot remain alone.
The prince reveals to her the secret of his name and leaves her the right to choose – to gift him life or take it away. Turandot chooses life and love.
The opera Turandot, the last in his work, was conceived by Giacomo Puccini in November 1919. The plot is based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, who wrote his "fairy tale for the theater" in 1761 based on the tale of an Azerbaijani writer of the 12th century Nizami.
Puccini began working on Turandot in the summer of 1920, with the support of librettists Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. At the same time, the composer was not limited only to composing music, but he himself participated in the development of the libretto. Work on the work continued until the death of Puccini from cancer in 1924. Such a long period is explained by the fact that one of the authors was a sought-after playwright and was often distracted by his own projects.
Puccini did not have time to finish the final duet of Turandot and Calaf. At the premiere of April 25, 1926, conductor Arturo Toscanini stopped the performance on the last bar, which was composed by the composer, turned to the public and said that the opera was cut off at this place because the maestro was gone.
The whole work was shown the next day - the final duet and the finale were written by Franco Alfano based on the author's drafts. Critics recognize this option as inconspicuous, and therefore composers Luciano Berio (premiere in 2002) and Hao Wei (premiere in 2007) offered their versions.
Turandot is the most complex of Puccini's operas, and therefore it is the least popular with directors. It is difficult to perform and difficult to understand, and the parties of the two main characters are designed for outstanding voices. Calaf’s aria Nessun Dorma (“Nobody Will Fall Asleep”) from the last act of the opera is one of the standards of vocal art for tenors. At the same time, as musicologist Abram Gosenpud writes, “in terms of the captivating nature of melodics, the brightness and freshness of harmonies, the brilliance of the orchestra, the drama, and the richness of musical drama, this is a kind of encyclopedia of musical skill.”
Researchers see in Turandot the main musical themes: the “icy” theme of the princess herself, the “heroic” theme of Calaf, the “comic” and “cynical” theme of the ministers (their prototypes are Pantalone, Tartaglia and Brigella - characters of the dell'arte theater), “ romantic "theme of Liu, as well as the theme of the people (mass choral scenes). The musicologist George Marek does not exclude that this “folk theme”, not peculiar to other works of the composer, could appear in “Turandot” under the influence of “Boris Godunov” by Modest Mussorgsky.
Critics note some lengths (mainly in the ministries of Ping, Pang and Pong), but they are sure that if Puccini had the opportunity to finish and edit his work, it would satisfy the most sophisticated connoisseurs.
Photo – Yuri Litvinenko, Dmitry Skvortsov