Opera. A grandiose Chinese saga with almost two hundred participants on stage. Finally Puccini's Turandot returns.
"A huge sucess for The Göteborg Opera" Dagens Nyheter
"A crystal clear, stunningly beautiful Turandot" Dagens Nyheter
"Impressive, both musically and visually" Göteborgs-Posten
Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, and one of The Göteborg Opera’s major successes. This is Puccini’s Turandot, where, together with the set design, around two hundred participants in dazzling costumes help to create a magnificent exotic dream. The premiere of the production was in 2006 and there has been a great demand for a revival. In the meantime, The Göteborg Opera has further raised its Puccini profile, firstly with Bohème (2008) and then last season with Tosca.
The opera, Puccini’s last, is based on a Chinese saga about the princess Turandot. Only the person who can guess her three riddles may marry her; those who guess wrong are beheaded. Matters reach a critical stage when a prince arrives and passes the test. Does Turandot possess the ability to feel? And what will happen to the slave girl Liù, who genuinely loves the prince?
Turandot is sung by the Italian dramatic soprano Francesca Patanè, who captivated the audience on her previous appearances at The Göteborg Opera. Prince Calaf is sung by Tomas Lind, who has had great success in this role, not least with his interpretation of the celebrated aria “Nessun dorma”. The slave girl Liù, with her indomitable capacity for love, is sung by the Swedish soprano Charlotta Larsson, who in 2012 was awarded the Litteris et Artibus medal.
“Impressive, both musically and visually”, “An ideal and stunningly beautiful Turandot” the critics wrote after the premiere 2006.
Watch a film clip from Turandot
Watch a film clip with Fancesca Patané
Look at photos from Turandot 2006
– Puccini’s swansong
Turandot was Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) last, unfinished opera. After nine operas, he was Italy’s best known opera composer of the day, a 60-year-old man who in 1919 had not composed anything at all for three years. He had already thrown away several drafts when he suddenly proposed doing a fairy tale play. By chance his librettist Giuseppe Adami brought him together with writer Renato Simoni, who had carried out research into commedia dell’arte playwright Carlo Gozzi. Simoni showed Gozzi’s fairy tale play Turandot to Puccini, who was in principle very keen on the idea. So then these three gentlemen – Adami, Simoni and Puccini – together created one of the 20th century’s most popular operas.
Gozzi’s Turandot was not an untested theme in musical drama. Gozzi had based his 1762 fairy tale play on a Persian tale, giving it a Chinese setting instead. This play was later reworked and translated by Friedrich von Schiller, the version that Puccini amusingly enough based his play on, in a later Italian translation. Ferrucio Busoni’s Turandot, which was composed in German in 1917 for the Zurich opera, gained a certain significance. This one-act play is considerably closer to Gozzi’s/Schiller’s drama than Puccini’s version.
But inspiration just would not come to Puccini, and he accurately predicted that he would never get it finished. On numerous occasions he changed the overall structure, from two acts to three. A first draft has the first act continue up to when Calaf solved the riddles. After that the second act begins with a solo scene for Turandot. This scene was soon dropped, and for the sake of proportions they would have needed something to fill out the start of the act. Then came along the scene for the comic ministers Ping, Pang and Pong. These three companions, who mourn the old China, have their origin in the commedia dell’arte figures from Gozzi’s fairy tale play. But the Italian anachronisms were taken away, and the figures were made less individual and more “Chinese”. They show that humour was hardly foreign to Puccini.
Liù – maidservant from real life
But the biggest change concerned the introduction of the slave girl Liù. It was also this that made it difficult for Puccini to complete his work. This role, which has considerably more in common with his previous opera heroines than the title role, was based on Turandot’s slave girl Adelma in Gozzi’s play. But Adelma is considerably colder and more calculating than Liù. As is well known, Puccini wanted to make the audience weep, and it is with Liù that we recognise the Italian master of melodrama. The more torture, psychological or physical, the more tears from the audience. But in the case of Liù there is also a strong biographical motif, which meant that the maestro was able to further charge the scenes where one woman tortures another psychologically or physically. The fact that Puccini had an eye for the ladies was no secret, and his wife Elvira was well aware of it too. She accused their maid Doria Manfredi on numerous occasions of conducting a secret love affair with Puccini; she spied on them, and finally (in 1909) the poor girl committed suicide by taking poison. During the subsequent post-mortem it turned out that she had been a virgin, and Puccini was inconsolable – he was never free of the image of the unhappy Doria. The whole business led to a breach between husband and wife lasting almost a year. It is easy to see Elvira behind the Princess Turandot, who unfeelingly witnesses Liù’s torture and suicide. Just as coldly had Elvira behaved before the tragic events in their own household. The character of the devoted, loving and self-sacrificing slave girl Liù was Puccini’s most beautiful and touching way of begging the girl for forgiveness – he painted her in words and music.
An incomplete fact – Alfano’s solution But at the same time Liù’s death scene led Puccini into a dead end. He wanted to introduce the scene to the plot so that the slave girl’s self-sacrificing love makes Turandot finally thaw and learn what true love is. But how to move forward after the tragic death scene? How to arrange the end of the drama without Calaf appearing like an inconsiderate social climber and Turandot just as self-absorbed as when she made her first entrance? This was a conundrum of musical drama that Puccini was never able to solve. He rejected at least five different libretto suggestions. By the time the sixth draft was finally to his liking, he had been admitted to a clinic in Brussels to have surgery for mouth cancer. He died of a heart attack soon after.
In the midst of the mourning for Italy’s most celebrated composer of the day, a decision had to be made as to what to do about the final scene. The première at La Scala in Milan had to be postponed, and the musical director, conductor Arturo Toscanini, had a big say in the future of the work. In the end it was the composer Franco Alfano who was given the task. He had previously had a success with his opera Risurrezione (Resurrection), and was given access to Puccini’s sketches. Puccini had left behind some of Calaf’s lines, although interestingly almost none of Turandot’s – it was the transformation from frigid ice princess to loving woman that he had the most difficulty in depicting. Alfano worked hard and at a rapid pace, but Toscanini was not satisfied with the result. The conductor made him delete more than one hundred bars from the scene. In more recent times, his longer ending has been played on various occasions, and most people agree that it does both Puccini and Alfano greater justice.
The very first performance was in 1926 at La Scala, with Rosa Raisa in the title role. After Liù’s funeral chorus had disappeared into the distance, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and said, “At this point the maestro died”, whereupon the performance ended. A voice from the audience called out, “Viva Puccini!” and the audience is said to have wept. According to some sources, the opera was apparently not performed again with the Alfano ending until the next conductor took to the podium. It was incredibly successful, and the work spread over the continent rapidly, in all cases with the shorter finale. It came to Stockholm the following year.
After this it was not until the final years of the twentieth century that any other composer dared to change the final scene based on Puccini’s sketches. Luciano Berio (1925-2003), Italy’s best-known contemporary composer, combined the preserved sketches with a more contemporary look. The new ending was performed in Salzburg in 2002, and has been played at several different opera houses since then. The first time this ending was played in the Nordic region was in 2005 at the Norrland Opera in Umeå, with Tobias Ringborg conducting. In 2012 he will be conducting Turandot at the Göteborg Opera, with the shorter Alfano ending.
Puccini’s most modern work
Turandot is one of Puccini’s most frequently performed operas, and there is still much that is new and different. Without a doubt, Turandot is his most modern score. The exotic setting prompted him to use a pentatonic scale, and there are elements of bitonality and polytonality, i.e. two or more keys are used simultaneously. But the music also has great range; alongside the more modernist elements, there are traditionally melodious arias – in particular Liù and Calaf’s “Nessun dorma”, the real hit of the work. If the design of these two roles is kept fairly traditional, the sections with Turandot and the chorus are more forward-looking. The very extensive sections for the chorus make Turandot Puccini’s only truly great choral opera
And if Liù is a typical Puccini heroine, the title role is totally different in essence from his other female roles. It is clear that Puccini viewed it as an exciting challenge to create something new. Turandot’s role is relatively short – she does not actually open her mouth until halfway through the opera – but what she has to sing is among the most dramatic and demanding of all Italian soprano roles. At times there have been very few to interpret the role; after Rosa Raisa from the première, there was Eva Turner and Sweden’s own Birgit Nilsson. For her it was almost a pleasure to sing Puccini’s most daunting soprano role. She showed this at, among other places, Scandinavium in Göteborg in 1973. The Italian Francesca Patanè, who will now be seen in the role in Göteborg, holds the unbeaten record for having played this “voice killer” role more than 300 times.
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Here you will find a selection of Turandot related products, such as CD's.