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Turandot, Opera by G. Puccini

Turandot, Opera by G. Puccini

Without a doubt Giacomo Puccini’s most ambitious work, Turandot nonetheless continues to divide critical opinion. Some praise Puccini’s astonishing musical characterisation veering from pure diatonic melody to clashing dissonances; others voice their dissatisfaction with the eponymous heroine’s sudden transformation from cold, calculating despot into a woman who at last has found her prince.

Turandot sweeps us off to a mythical China that is colourful, mysterious and savage; at the same time it is an opera with a clear modern sensibility. Puccini shows us how love and hate can stem from the same tree; that they produce violent emotions; and how sometimes they result in death. However we all know that we cannot escape their clutches.

Turandot, the Emperor's daughter, is cruel and unforgiving. When the opera begins, and despite the pleas of the crowd, she sends the Prince of Persia, her last failed suitor, to the executioner’s block. Unswayed by the barbarity he has witnessed, the Prince of Tartary is overwhelmed by Turandot’s beauty and accepts her challenge to solve three seemingly impossible riddles to win her heart or perish in the attempt. When he succeeds, he sets Turandot her own conundrum: discover his name - Calaf - by sunrise and he will happily die for her.

Sadly we will never know what Puccini had in mind for his two protagonists, as he died before he could complete the work; it fell then to others to attempt an ending that does justice to everything that has gone before. Indeed, at its premiere on 25 April 1926 at La Scala in Milan, the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, refused to take the opera’s first performance beyond what Puccini had written and it was only in subsequent performances that Franco Alfano’s conclusion to the work, commissioned by Toscanini himself, was included.

Turandot is of course the opera which brought to audiences possibly the most immediately recognised, and certainly one the greatest, arias ever written: Nessun Dorma. Heard at so many concerts, outside of the opera itself, a visit to the world of Turandot places this much-loved piece of music within the context of the work as Puccini originally intended.

Turandot is exoticism writ large; now it falls to the Volksoper Wien to present one of the most dramatic works in the genre.

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