Grand spectacle of legendary tale of pride, revenge, and love
The timeless story of a cold and proud Chinese princess claiming her superiority over every contender for her heart is richly staged in this historic Franco Zefferelli production from 1987 of the last masterpiece by Giacomo Puccini. The cast at the Met Opera includes Oksana Dyka and Martina Serafin in the title role, Marcelo Alvarez as Prince Calaf with Carlo Rizzi and Marco Armiliato conducting. Opulent orchestration, inclusion of the uncommon musical instruments in the score, innovative use of chorus and ballet are all part of this grand spectacle of pride, revenge, and love.
The creation of this opera is a tale in itself. Puccini first came across this subject after reading F. Schiller’s translation into German of Carlo Gozzi’s play with the same title. Gozzi’s play, in turn, was based on one of “The Seven Beauties” fables by Nizami, 12th-century Persian poet renowned for his narrative poems and lyrical verses. “The Seven Beauties” plot ties together time (days of the week), colors (each story is given a color) and action. The cold and independent daughter of a king of Turan, Turandokht, was the story of the first day told under the red dome. Another version has it that Gozzi’s play Turandot was inspired by the fairy tales Les Mille et un Jours (1722) by François Pétis de la Croix from the original version in Persian.
But it doesn’t stop there. When Puccini started his work on the opera in 1920, he received a Chinese music box as a gift from Italy’s former ambassador to China. The box played several Chinese songs three of which were included in the score of the opera and ultimately transformed the action to a legend time China. It is not surprising that the leitmotif for Turandot is the folk melody “Mo Li Hua“.
Puccini was so immersed in this project that his librettists Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni couldn’t keep up and were behind with the text. By March 1924 the score was almost completed up to the finale. But Puccini wasn’t happy with the verses for the final duet so the librettists continued writing until October of that year. Puccini’s sudden death from a heart attack on November 29, 1924, left the music unfinished and was eventually completed by an Italian composer Franco Alfano. The premiere took place at La Scala, Milan, on Sunday 25 April 1926.
Starting from 1926 Turandot is successfully performed at every opera house around the world. In China, the opera has entered the regular repertoire only in 1998 when it was performed for the first time under the title of Turandot at the Forbidden City.
The third act of the opera starts with Nessun Dorma, one of the most recognizable arias memorably popularized by Luciano Pavarotti among other artists. While an unforgettable recording of Turandot with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti with Zubin Mehta conducting is available, nothing can beat the live performance at the Met Opera!
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