Turandot

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Turandot

Foolishly believing she has escaped the grasp of love, Turandot stains Beijing’s Imperial Palace with a bloody reign. The arrival of the mysterious stranger who inspires her fall is as gloriously mesmerizing as she is ruthless.

 


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Act I

Peking, legendary times. In a quarter swarming with people near the Forbidden City, a Mandarin reads an edict: “Any prince seeking to marry Princess Turandot must answer three riddles - and if he fails, he will die.”  Her latest suitor, the Prince of Persia, is to be executed at the rise of the moon.  Bloodthirsty citizens urge the executioner on, and in the tumult, a slave girl, Liù, calls out for help when her aged master is pushed to the ground.  A handsome youth recognizes him as his long-lost father, Timur, the vanquished king of Tartary.  When the old man tells his son, Prince Calàf, that only Liù has remained faithful to him, the prince asks her why.  She replies, “It is because once, long ago, Calàf smiled on her.”  The condemned Prince of Persia passes on the way to execution, moving the onlookers to call upon Turandot to spare his life.  Turandot appears, and with a contemptuous gesture orders that the execution proceed.  Calàf, consumed by Turandot’s beauty, determines to win her as his bride, rushing to sound the gong that announces the arrival of each new suitor.  Turandot's ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, try to stop the Prince, and their warnings are supplemented by those of Timur and Liù.  Despite their pleas, Calàf strikes the gong as he calls out the name of Turandot. 

Act II

In their quarters, Ping, Pang and Pong lament their lives as ministers of death under Turandot's bloody reign.  They pray that love will conquer her icy heart so peace can return.  As the people gather to hear Turandot question the new challenger, the ministers are called back to harsh reality. 

Emperor Altoum offers Prince Calàf one final chance to give up his quest, but in vain.  Turandot enters and tells the story of her ancestor Princess Lou-Ling - brutally slain by a conquering Prince.  In revenge, Turandot has turned against all men, determining that none shall ever possess her.  She poses her first question: “What is born each night and dies each dawn?” –“Hope,” Calàf answers correctly.  

Unnerved, Turandot continues: “What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not fire?” – “Blood,” replies Calàf.  Shaken, Turandot delivers her final riddle: “What is like ice but burns like fire?”  An intense silence prevails until Calàf triumphantly cries his answer: “Turandot!”  The ministers proclaim he has answered all three riddles correctly, and while the crowd gives thanks, the Princess begs her father not to abandon her to a stranger.  The Emperor refuses to release her from her sacred oath.  Calàf, however, offers Turandot a riddle of his own: “Tell me my name by dawn, and at dawn I shall die.”

Act III

Late at night, in a palace garden, Calàf hears a proclamation: “On pain of death, no one shall sleep until the stranger's name is learned.”  In the famous aria, Nessun Dorma (no one may sleep), the prince muses on the joy the morning will bring.  The mob threatens Calàf in order to learn his name. Soldiers drag in Liù and Timur, who witnesses saw earlier in the day with the Prince.  Horrified, Calàf tries to convince the mob that neither knows his secret.  When Turandot appears, commanding the dazed Timur to speak, Liù cries out that she alone knows the stranger's identity.  Through all the tortures of the guards she remains silent.  Shaken by the resolve of this slave girl, Turandot asks why Liù would sacrifice herself in this way – “For love,” she replies; this simple reply shakes Turandot.  When the Princess signals the soldiers to intensify the torture, Liù snatches a dagger from one of them and kills herself.  The grieving Timur and the crowd follow her body as it is carried away.*  

Turandot remains alone to confront Calàf, who at length takes her in his arms, forcing her to kiss him.  Knowing physical passion for the first time, Turandot weeps.  The Prince, now sure of his victory, tells her his name.  As the people hail the emperor, Turandot approaches his throne, announcing that the stranger's name is - Love.

*Here Puccini stopped composing, passing away a few short months afterwards.