Turandot (1920 - 1924)
Left unfinished by Giacomo Puccini and completed by Franco Alfano
Librettists, Giuseppe Adami, Renato Simoni
Although during a trip to London in 1919 Puccini saw many plays, several of which may have suggested an opera with a Chinese theme, Puccini apparently had the idea to turn Carlo Gozzi's tragi-comedy, Turandotte, written around 1763, into an opera during a lunch meeting he was having in Milan with two librettists with whom he was working on another project. One of them, Renato Simoni, had previously written a play about Gozzi, and he suggested that Puccini look over Gozzi's works. Puccini already knew of Turandotte , and was taken with the idea of proceeding with Simoni and Giuseppe Adami, his librettist on La Rondine and Il Tabarro, on a very grand and important opera. In July of 1920, he invited Adami and Simoni to Bagni di Lucca, where he was spending part of the summer, to listen to some Chinese tunes played on a music box owned by a friend who was a collector of Chinese art and had brought it back from the Far East . After this meeting in Bagni, the librettists began to create a text from the scenario Puccini had asked them to write several months before. Even then, Puccini was unsure if he would proceed with this opera, as he was troubled by his usual doubts and fears. By early 1921, he was feeling more than a little intimidated by the subject, as it seemed so grand and difficult, but the three forged ahead, Puccini having decided to put aside his other projects in favor of Turandot. It was during 1921 that he became so aggravated by the addition of a noisy peat factory near him at Torre del Lago, that he reluctantly moved to Viareggio , having built a new house there. Although he never completely abandoned his beloved lake and often went to visit his friends there, he would never again be able to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of his home at the water's edge. By 1923, it was clear that the composer was quite ill, plagued not only with diabetes but also with a throat ailment that would be eventually diagnosed as cancer. As usual, he bombarded his librettists with requests and demands for changes and revisions in the text, often not hearing from them for weeks as they were both successful writers themselves with other projects in hand at the same time. Normally, Puccini didn't compose without the text, but sometimes with Turandot he would compose the music and ask to have the verse written to fit his composition. He felt under much pressure to complete the work, as if he had a sense of his own impending life's end. By 1924, Puccini couldn't wait to be "free" of Turandot, feeling unhappy about the progress of the work, which as usual, was slow. By the spring, he was waiting only for the final love duet from his librettists, and he felt that he had done good work with the rest of the opera. By this time, his throat problems had become a torment: persistently painful, he'd endured several inaccurate diagnoses and his overall state of health was failing. Coughing constantly, his friends were alarmed at how old and ill he looked. His cancer was finally diagnosed in October of 1924, by a specialist in Florence who advised Puccini to go to Brussels for a radium treatment. During this period Puccini had been working hard with his librettists and with Toscannini, whom he wanted to conduct the premiere, to complete the third act. He was still unhappy with the ending, and when he made the trip to Brussels , he took with him his musical notes for the Turandot finale with him, believing he would be able to work at the clinic. Puccini remained optimistic throughout his sometimes painful treatment, however, after undergoing surgery on November 24, the Maestro's health took a downward turn. He died on the morning of November 29, 1924, of heart failure. As the opera was incomplete, it was left toToscannini and Casa Ricordi, the publishing house, to decide how to finish the work. The publisher elected Franco Alfano for the job, a choice readily accepted by Toscannini and the composer's son, Antonio. Alfano was a distinguished teacher and composer, and had enjoyed respectable success with his own operas. He completed Puccini's Turandot, based on the composer's own musical notes and sketches, and the opera was premiered in Milan at La Scala on April 25, 1925. Toscannini brought the first performance to an end without continuing with Alfano's ending, laying down his baton and turning to the audience to announce "Here the opera ends, because at this point, the Maestro died." However, in subsequent performances during the season, he conducted the opera in its entirity, and of course, that is the way we hear it today.
Synopsis: The cold and beautiful Princess Turandot has sworn a vow that she will only marry a man of noble birth who is able to answer three riddles that she asks him. Many would-be suitors have tried in vain to win the Princess's hand, but the punishment for failure is death. A large crowd has gathered to witness the beheading of the latest victim, among them Timur, the deposed King of Tartary, and his slave girl, Liù. In the throngs of the crowd, they discover Calaf, Timur's son, whom they had believed killed in battle. The execution is about to begin and the crowd begs for mercy for the latest victim, but Turandot appears and orders the man to his death. Calaf is taken by her beauty, and decides to try to win her for himself by trying to answer the riddles. Suddenly three comic figures appear: they are Ping , Pang and Pong, ministers of the court, who try to dissuade Calaf from striking the gong that announces the arrival of a new suitor. But Calaf is resolute: he will melt the ice-maiden's heart. The trial begins: one by one, Calaf gives the correct answer to the three riddles the Princess poses. Turandot is mortified, and turns to the Emperor begging him not to wed her to the stranger, but he insists that the sacred vow must be fulfilled. Calaf, who wants the Princess's love, tells her that if she can discover his name by dawn, he will release her from the marriage vow. As the night wears on, Turandot decrees that no one must sleep until she knows the name of the unknown Prince. The three ministers try to lure Calaf with maidens, wealth and glory, but he refuses. The guards drag Timur and Liù in front of Turandot, who orders that Liù be tortured, as the slave girl has said that she alone knows the name of the stranger. However, Liù's secret love for Calaf brings her strength, and she stabs herself to death rather than give up his name to the cruel Princess. As her body is carried away in a funeral procession, Calaf and Turandot are left alone, and the Prince upbraids her for her cruelty and her cold heart. Insisting that love can make her human, he takes her in his arms and kisses her passionately, transforming the Princess who admits that she loves him in return. Calaf reveals his name to her, and as the dawn rises and the crowd gathers, the Princess tells them his name: it is Love. The crowd cheers and the couple are wed.
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