Saturday, December 24, 2011

Puccini's Turandot: Final Scene

The final scene (scene 2; Act III) of Giacomo Puccini's Turandot, a Franco Zeffirelli production, at the Met with James Levine conducting, part of the opera house's 2009-2010 season. The opera's setting is Peking, China, during ancient times. The synopsis can be found here.


Turandot is a three-act opera by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni. It is based on Turandot (1762), a commedia dell'arte by Carlo Gozzi, which itself comes from a collection of Persian tales, The Book of One Thousand and One Days. "Turandot" is a Persian word, whose meaning is "the daughter of Turan," a region in Central Asia that was once part of the Persian Empire.

The story, set in ancient China, focuses on Prince Calàf who falls in love with the ice princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any false answer results in death. Calàf passes the test, but Turandot still hesitates to marry him. He offers her a way out: he agrees to die should she be able guess his real name. That is only revealed at the end, in scene two of Act III, as Wikipedia says:
Turandot and Calàf approach the Emperor's throne. She declares that she knows the Prince's name: Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore! – "It is ... love!" The crowd cheers and acclaims the two lovers (O sole! Vita! Eternità).
The opera remained unfinished at the time of Puccini's death in 1924; Franco Alfano had the unenviable task of completing it, which he did in 1926. The first performance was held at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, on April 25, 1926, Arturo Toscanini conducting. This performance included only Puccini's music and not Alfano's later additions. The next evening, Alfano's additions were performed.

The opera has many faithful fans worldwide; critics are not so easily impressed, considering the opera gaudy and essentially over-the-top. In a New York Times review, Anthony Tommassini writes of his criticism of American soprano Lise Lindstrom (temporarily replacing principal soprano Maria Guleghina) performing the title role:
Though Ms. Lindstrom may not have the biggest Turandot voice, she sang with chilling power and nailed the top notes. Her sound was impressively focused, with a vibrant vibrato on sustained tones and no wobble. The youthful shimmer of her singing was balanced by rich emotional maturity.

Yet there was often a hard edge to her sound, not quite strident but close. Whether this coloring is simply a characteristic of her voice or a sign of strain for a singer in her early 40s is the question. Her performance was strong. But I worry about her future.

Turandot: Original Poster from 1926.
Source: Wikipedia

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