07 Mar 2014

Turandot's Characters and Story

Cast of Characters:

Princess Turandot soprano
The Emperor Altoum, her father tenor
Timur, the dispossessed King of Tartary bass
Calàf, his son tenor
Liù, a young slave-girl soprano
Ping, Grand Chancellor (Mask) Baritone
Pang, General Purveyor (Mask) Tenor
Pong, Chief Cook (Mask) Tenor
A Mandarin Baritone
The Prince of Persia silent role
The Executioner (Pu-Tin-Pao) silent role
Imperial guards, the executioner’s men, boys, priests, mandarins, dignitaries, eight wise men, Turandot’s handmaids, soldiers, standard-bearers, musicians, ghosts of suitors and a crowd
Setting Peking, in legendary times

 Act 1 A public square in Peking beneath the city ramparts, with the imperial palace to one side
 A Mandarin enters and proclaims the Emperor’s decree: Princess Turandot shall wed the first suitor of royal lineage who successfully solves her three riddles.  All who fail will be executed. The Prince of Persia, who tried and failed, will be beheaded this evening when the moon rises. The crowd surges eagerly toward the palace, but the imperial guards brutally turn them away, knocking an elderly blind man to the ground.  His slave-girl, Liù, cries out for help. They are rescued by a young man, who recognizes the old man as his father, Timur, the deposed King of Tartary.  The young Prince Calàf, who is in disguise, urges his father not to mention his name for fear of being discovered by the Chinese who overthrew their country.  Timur tells Calàf that of all their former servants, only Liù has remained faithful to them.  When Calàf asks why, Liù explains that she chose to share the family’s suffering because once, long ago at their palace, Calàf had “smiled upon her” (“Indietro, cani!”).
The moon rises and the crowd, accompanied by fierce, almost frenzied music, cries out for blood. As the culminating cry of ‘Pu-Tin-Pao’ (the Executioner’s name) subsides, a chorus of boys is heard approaching. Their chant (“Là, sui monti dell’est”), a version of the Chinese folksong “Moo-Lee-Vha,” accompanies Turandot while acting in her official capacity. The Prince of Persia is escorted to the scaffold under armed guard. The handsome young man’s dignified bearing draws pity from the crowd.  They plead for the Princess to spare his life, but she confirms his sentence with a silent gesture. From far off the Prince of Persia invokes the name of Turandot as the axe falls. But Calaf has been so overwhelmed by the Princess’s beauty that he is determined to try to win her, despite his father’s warnings. He is about to strike the gong and issue his challenge when Ping, Pang and Pong rush in and restrain him. From the balcony the Princess’s handmaidens call for silence – their mistress is sleeping. Ping, Pang, and Pong pay no heed and continue their persuasions. The ghosts of former suitors materialize, each bewailing his unrequited love. The masks point to the Executioner as he enters, bearing the Prince of Persia’s severed head. Timur joins them in their efforts to dissuade Calàf.  In “Signore, ascolta” Liù makes a last appeal, to which Calàf, deeply moved, replies (“Non piangere, Liù”), recommending Timur to her care should he himself fail the test. As he continues to hold out, the music develops into a broadly swaying tug-of-war based on alternating chords and reinforced by the full chorus singing offstage. At the climax Calàf strikes the gong three times. Liù and Timur are in despair.
Act 2, scene i A pavilion Ping, Pang and Pong are preparing for either outcome of Calàf’s quest – a wedding or a funeral. They reflect on China’s misery since Turandot came to power. Once ministers of state, they have been demoted to servants of the Executioner. Memories of Turandot’s past victims, sung by an unseen chorus, give way to hopes that the man has been found who can tame her and restore tranquility to the land. The palace awakens to the sound of trumpets, and the music continues without a break into the following scene.
Act 2, scene ii. The palace courtyard A crowd gradually assembles. Various dignitaries take their places, among them eight wise men, each bearing three scrolls. The aged Emperor Altoum, sitting on a highly laced ivory throne, tries in vain to dissuade Calàf from his venture. A solemn choral hymn wishes him 10,000 years of life. Once again the Mandarin reads the imperial decree regarding the Princess, and she enters, again announced by the boys’ chorus. Her aria “In questa reggia” tells the story of her ancestress Lo-u Ling, who was raped and murdered by a foreign army, and whose memory she has sworn to avenge on any man foolish enough to woo her. A pattern of three chords introduces each of her riddles, to which Calàf gives the correct answers (“Hope,” “Blood,” and “Turandot”). The full chorus and orchestra celebrate Calàf’s victory. Turandot begs Altoum to release her from her vow, but he refuses. Calàf then offers her a way of escape. If by the following dawn she can discover his name, he will consent to be beheaded. Everyone hails Altoum, who hopes to be able to welcome Calàf as his son-in-law.
Act 3, scene iThe palace gardens, at night Distant heralds repeat the Princess’s command that none shall sleep on pain of death until the Prince’s name be revealed. In “Nessun dorma” Calàf echoes their words, resolving that his secret shall never be disclosed. Ping, Pang, and Pong enter and offer Calàf various bribes, but he rejects them all. Meanwhile the crowd that has gathered threatens him with their daggers, when suddenly the imperial guards appear, dragging in Timur and Liù. The Princess is summoned. She orders the interrogation of Timur, but it is Liù who steps forward, claiming that she alone knows the Prince’s name. Turandot has her bound and Ping tries to make her talk. Liù, singing words written by Puccini himself, tells the mystified Princess that love has given her the power to resist (“Tu che di gel sei cinta’). The Executioner arrives; he and his men torture Liù. At the end of her strength she snatches a dagger from one of the guards and stabs herself. Timur, being blind, has to be told of her death; he joins the procession that bears her body away. At this point Alfano’s reconstruction of Puccini’s sketches takes over, beginning with a duet (“Principessa di morte”) between Calàf and Turandot, in which the Princess, at first haughty and unyielding, succumbs when Calàf embraces her. Humiliated, she begs him to leave, taking his secret with him. But he now feels sufficiently confident to tell her that he is Calàf, son of Timur. At once she recovers her pride, realizing that she still holds his life in her hands. A female chorus punctuated by brass flourishes leads into the final scene.
 Act 3, scene ii The palace courtyard, at dawn Once again the Emperor, his courtiers and the people have assembled. Advancing with Calàf, Turandot declares that at last she knows his name – it is “Love.” Chorus and orchestra unite in a triumphal reprise of “O sole! Vita! Eternità.”
Opening scene, Act 1:

Liù singing “Signore, ascolta” (sung by Ekaterina Shcherbachenko) :

Turandot:  “In questa reggia” :

Liù’s final aria, “Tu che di gel sei cinta” :

Calaf singing “Nessun dorma” (a young Pavarotti, and in an actual opera production): 

Calaf and Turandot:  “Principessa di morte” :