Silicon Valley, CA -- The Metropolitan Opera's production of PUCCINI's TURANDOT demonstrates the combined talents of so many artists, that any detail related to the production would make fascinating reading in our "The Metropolitan Opera HD Live version commentary".
We could describe, in detail, the iconic set considered one of the most elaborate sets created by the late FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI's (l923-20l9). A visual masterpiece representing the city of Peking with each scene resembling a painting hanging from a wall in a museum. We could try to describe, using words, the intensity in the conducting of YANNICK ZÉZET-SÉGUIN, the Metropolitan Opera's JEANETTE LERMAN-NEUBAUER Music Director, who conducted his first PUCCINI's Opera at the Met, with so much gusto that the musical sounds seemed to spring from the staff. We could describe the stamina of Dramatic Soprano CHRISTINE GOERKE, who sang the lead role in TURANDOT seamlessly, fresh from her triumphant run in last season's Brumhilde in WAGNER's Die Walküre. Or mention the returns to the Met of two singers: Italian Soprano ELEONORA BURANO, singing the role of Liú in the production and American bass baritone JAMES MORRIS singing the role of blind King Timur. And we could always write about how the aria "Nessun dorma," (Ne sunn Dorma in Italian, meaning, Nobody is allowed to sleep)that was interpreted by Azerbaijan's dramatic tenor YUSIF EYVAZOV in his role as Prince Calàf in the performance, and add, that the most famous tenors' aria in opera, in his voice, sounded magnificent. Our scope is vast because in this Met's production, of TURANDOT the talent is so outstanding, that even its Live transmissions, made possible by a generous grant from The NEUBAUER Family Foundation at the local theatres, (on October 12 and 16) was formidable.
TURANDOT was the last opera composed by Italian composer GIACOMO ANTONIO DOMÉNICO MICHELE SECONDO MARÍA PUCCINI (l858-l924). Its libretto was written by RENATO SIMONI, after Turandot, a play by CARLO GOZZI. Because PUCCINI died before finishing the opera, its last two scenes were written by poet by FRANCO ALFANO, based on PUCCINI's sketches. TURANDOT premiered at the Theatro Alla Scalla in Milan, on April 27, l926.
People often wonder why Princess Turandot, the leading character in the opera TURANDOT, is so different from the women's depictions in all PUCCHINI's previous operas. At the time, it was speculated that PUCCINI wrote Turandot, to compete with the "DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN" (The Woman without a Shadow) RICHARD STRAUSS's three acts opera based on a fairy tale. The work had been a great success, in l919. one year before PUCCINI started writing TURANDOT.
SOME UNKNOWN FACTS IN THE OPERA TURANDOT
Nobody knows if Princess Turandot ever existed, but at the time, her story was so popular that there are at least ten versions of operas and plays using Turandot as their subject. The first one was written by CARL MARIA VON WEBER (l786-l826) who wrote the story as an opera in l809. Another well-known version was the Italian opera written by FERRUCCIO BUSONI (1866-1924) in either l9ll or l9l7. Being an Italian opera, PUCCINI may have been familiar with it.
Neither one of the previous TURANDOTS was set in Peking, China and if we analyze the behavior of the main characters in PUCCINI's TURANDOT and the names of his characters: Turandot, Calàf, and Tamur they indicate a Middle East Origin. which is the reason why many historians believe that Princess Turandot may have been a Persian, princes whose character was taken from one of the stories written in the Middle East collection of fairy tales "One Thousand and one Nights.
THE SET AND THE CHARACTERS
Setting stories in China started in ARABIA during the late Fifteen and sixteen centuries. China was first introduced to the Italian stage by Italian Playwright CARLO GOZZI, (l720-l806) in l762) who had written a play based on Turandot but decided to change its original setting to China to be able to include "Chinoiserie," at the time unfamiliar to Italy, as a visual effect. Yet, at the same time and being a champion of the Italian Commedia Dell' Arte, he added three clowns from La Commedia in his play.
When PUCCHINI based the libretto of his opera TURANDOT in GOZZI's play, he decided to use GOZZI's Chinese setting , because he wanted to compose music with a different sound, and he also borrowed the characters of his three clowns, which he presented in his opera as Chinese Ministers, Ping, Pong and Pang. And perhaps to give three-dimensionality to the character of his princess Turandot, he borrowed the highly motivated struggle between a woman's pride and her burgeoning love, from the lead character in German poet FRIEDRICH Von SCHILLER's play, "The Bride of Messina,"
The audience is not given the year when the story of TURANDOT takes place in Peking, China, but we know that, at the time of the story, just for being a woman, Princess Turandot was considered "a possession" of her father, the King of Peking. Because of it, she had no choice, but to accept her father's command, when he determined that she had to get married. But being an intelligent woman who probably had witnessed how tragic it was for a woman to be misunderstood by the man she is going to share with, the rest of her life, she did not want to become another victim, so, to her father's edict, she added as a clause: that any man who wanted to marry her, needed first to answer the three riddles that she was going to give him:
1. What is born at night and dies at dawn? 2. What flickers red and warms like a flame, but is not fire? and 3. What is like ice, yet burns?
And, assuming that a man who was unable to answer her riddles was also uncapable to understand a woman, to "save" those future wives from such men, she ordered them to be decapitated . We can only try to explain her despotism towards men as a rebellion against a culture that for centuries had considered and treated women as objects.
TURANDOT the opera begins at night, with the King's announcement that the Prince of Persia will be decapitated the next day for failing to answer Turandot's riddles, followed by an invitation to those who wanted to try to answer the riddles and marry Turandot, to ring the gong in the plaza, three times.
Prince Calàf (YUSIF EYVASOZ) is in the streets of Peking on that night, and when he sees Princess Turandot (GOERKE) for the first time, he falls in love with her and decides to ring the gong three times.
His father King Timur (JAMES MORRIS) who is also in Peking after fleeing from his kingdom, but is now a blind man,led by Liú (ELEONORA BURATTO) a slave, tries to convince him to abandon Peking with them that night, but he refuses. His reaction and sudden love for Turandot, hurts Liú who had been in love with Calàf, since the day the prince smiled at her many years ago in his palace.
When Turandot asked Calàf the riddles' three questions, he answers each one correctly: Hope appears at night and disappears by day. His second answer iwas Blood, and his answer to her riddle, "what is like ice but but burns? : Turandot. But since the Princess does not seem willing to marry him, He ask her to discover who he is before the next day and if she does, she does not have to marry him and can decapitate him. And with everybody trying to find out who this man is, nobody can sleep.
The third act starts with Calàf 's singing " Nessum Dorma" that interpreted by Tenor EYVASOZ, sounded marvelous, and ends with another magnificent aria in which BURATTO as Liú. instead of revealing to Turandot Calàf's name, reveals to her, in a masterful rendition, her silent love for Prince Calàf, during many years. Her revelation, which stopped the production for a few minutes of applase. Her revelation, shortly before her death, melts the ice in the heart of Princess Turandot and teaches her to love.
This Metropolitan Opera Production of TURANDOT is masterful. And it was also unique for the Italian composer, why? Because unlike PUCCHINI's leading roles of women in all his previous operas who represented the submissive women from their century, in the character of Princess Turandot, the composer puts on the stage of the Italian theatre, an intelligent , rebellious woman, who dares to challenge the authority of men, including the king, her father. Princess Turandot is the first woman, in operas' history, who dared to fight for women's rights.