English National Opera presents drive-in performance of ‘La bohème’

Full marks to English National Opera for ingenuity! The company is about to stage Drive & Live – a World Premiere performance of Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème as an open-air drive-in experience at London’s Alexandra Palace – proof yet again of what can be achieved when creativity meets a challenge.

This 90-minute version of one of the world’s best-loved operas, set – on this occasion – in the modern day bohemia of London, is staged by British Director P J Harris, who has won high critical acclaim for productions such as Vespers of 1610 for Garsington Opera, Salome for Opera North, and Riders to the Sea/Cupboard Love and The Cunning Little Vixen for Byre Opera.

The role of Mimi is sung by Award-winning Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw – “The outstanding soprano of her generation” according to the Telegraph – alternating in the role with soprano Nardus Williams. A graduate of Houston Grand Opera Studio, Ms Romaniw has previously appeared as Mimi for ENO, and also sung Cio-Cio San in Madam Butterfly and Mary Kelly in Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel for the company. An accomplished concert performer, she also made her BBC Proms debut in 2019 singing Rachmaninov’s The Bells with BBCNOW.

British soprano Nardus Williams has been praised by Opera Today for her “superbly controlled, sensuous soprano which has sheen and shimmer as well as real focus of tone”. She is currently an ENO Harewood Artist, and most recently appeared for the company as Micaëla in Carmen.

The role of Rodolfo is shared by tenors David Butt Philip and David Junghoon Kim. David Butt Philip has previously appeared in this role for ENO, described by the Guardian as “an impressively complete performance”, noting his “warm, easy-sounding tenor voice”. Other ENO performances include Don José in Carmen, the Prince in Rusalka, Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly, and he has also appeared for the company in Britten’s War Requiem.

Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim has sung the role of Rodolfo in productions of La bohème in both Zurich and Stuttgart. He has previously appeared for ENO as Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, a performance described by the Arts Desk as “nuanced, subtle in piano, searingly intense at full pelt, making an absolute dream of the opera’s best-known aria, Quando le sere al placido”.

Also in the cast are baritone Roderick Williams, alternating with Matthew Durkan as Marcello, sopranos Soraya Mafi and Sydney Mancasola alternating as Musetta, bass William Thomas shares the role of Colline with Jonathan Lemalu, baritones Benson Wilson and Ross Ramgobin appear alternately as Schaunard, basses Trevor Eliot Bowes and Paul Sheehan alternate in the role of Benoit, and bass-baritone John Savournin and bass Barnaby Rea share the role of Alcindoro.

The award-winning ENO Orchestra and Chorus are led by Martyn Brabbins, Music Director of ENO, alternating with Martin Fitzpatrick, the company’s Head of Music.

With the cast and crew following the government’s latest guidelines on social distancing, the performers will be on a raised and covered stage, with large screens to the side, ensuring that the performance can be seen by all audience members. High quality stereo sound will be delivered both outside and inside your car.

When booking, you’ll choose your ticket based on the size of your vehicle so that capacity can be managed – categories and ticket prices are available on the ENO website.

If you don’t have a car, ENO is partnering with Uber, so that you can book an Uber Box static car, and also pre-book an Uber ride to and from Alexandra Palace.  Alternately, ENO has also partnered with Lime to offer free cycle hire.

For information on all options, visit the ENO website.

English National Opera presents Puccini’s La bohème from 19th to 27th September in Drive & Live – a unique drive-in production at Alexandra Palace, North London. For more information visit the ENO website.

San Francisco Symphony spotlights Bay Area cultures

In an innovative piece of programming, the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of conductor Michael Morgan, presents CURRENTS – turning the spotlight on the music of four different cultures which contribute to the make-up of the multicultural Bay Area society – Chinese, jazz, hip hop and Mexican – and the relationship between these genres and classical music.

This four-part series of online videos and supporting podcasts has been curated by Michael Morgan – Music Director of the Oakland Symphony and Artistic Director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra – in collaboration with musicians of the San Francisco Symphony. The programs include observations and comments by participating musicians – guest artists as well as Symphony members.

Further information and exploration of the genres is provided by conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador at Symphony Nova Scotia, who has recently been appointed to the Board of Orchestras Canada and is chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility committee.

CURRENTS Episode I: Enter the Pipa – which has been available online since July 28th – explores the effect of Chinese musical culture on the Bay Area, not only in relation to those of Chinese or Asian descent, but to Americans as well. The program features award-winning pipa virtuoso Shenshen Zhang, together with San Francisco Symphony musicians Assistant Principal Cello Amos Yang, Associate Principal Viola Yun Jie Liu, and Assistant Principal Second Violin Jessie Fellows.

The featured pieces are from Bright Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in ChinaSeasons (Qinghai) and The Little Cabbage (Hebei) – in a new arrangement created for the Symphony, by the composer, for pipa, violin, viola and cello.

CURRENTS Episode II: Bay Area Blue Notes – available online since August 6th – focusses on jazz, with guest artists Tammy L Hall and Jason Hainsworth. It recalls the days when San Francisco’s Fillmore District was known as the “Harlem of the West” – during the 1940s and 50s. This era marked an important chapter not only in jazz history, but also in the Black American experience, with many clubs in the district hosting jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker.

San Francisco Symphony musicians appearing in this broadcast are Principal Bass Scott Pingel, Principal Timpani Edward Stephan and Mark Inouye, Principal Trumpet.

In this program, you’ll hear Mongo Santamaría’s Afro Blue, and Bronisław Kaper’s On Green Dolphin Street.

CURRENTS Episode III: From Scratch – just released – highlights the dynamic hip hop culture of Oakland. The title is derived from the creation – from scratch – of the musicians’ own movement, and their own sound. The program features guest artists Kev Choice (vocals, emcee with synth/laptop) and AÏMA the DRMR (vocals, emcee with synth/laptop).

From Scratch also features San Francisco Symphony musicians Paul Brancato (violin), Jonathan Vinocour (viola), cellist Barbara Bogatin, clarinettist Carey Bell, Jerry Simas on bass clarinet and trumpeter Aaron Schuman.

The pieces heard in From Scratch are Movements by Kev Choice, and Heady by AÏMA the DRMR – both arranged by Jack Perla.

The fourth and final episode of CURRENTS, ¡Viva México!, is a celebration of the multi-generational musical culture of the country. It’s scheduled for release on September 22nd, and features Los Cenzontles (guitar, vocals, percussion), with San Francisco Symphony musicians David Chernyavsky (violin), David Gaudry (viola) and Jill Brindel (cello).

Experience CURRENTS on sfsymphony.org/CURRENTS, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Spotify.

Photographs courtesy San Francisco Symphony

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Nézet-Séguin leads Met Opera’s online performance of ‘La Traviata’

In his first Live in HD transmission as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a new production of La Traviata on December 15, 2018, and it’s this performance which the Met Opera is streaming online as part of its week-long celebration of the works of Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi’s three-act opera, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, is based on the 1852 play La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, which in turn was based on Dumas’ 1848 novel of the same name. Inspiration for the novel came from an actual ‘lady of pleasure’ whom Dumas had known and adored. The opera, which premiered at La Fenice in Venice on March 6th, 1853, became one of Verdi’s most frequently performed during his lifetime – and continues to be so today.

The role of the tragic heroine Violetta Valéry – the ‘fallen woman’ of the title – is taken by soprano Diana Damrau, whom the New York Times described as “an extraordinary Violetta, singing with big, plush yet focused sound …”.

Her lover Alfredo is sung by tenor Juan Diego Flórez in his first Verdi role for the Company, and whose “exquisite legato and mezza voce have held up gorgeously in the four seasons since he last sang at the Met”, according to the Observer.

Quinn Kelsey – described by Seen and Heard International as “a Verdi baritone of the first rank” – is Alfredo’s father, Count Germont, who cannot stand the shame of his son’s relationship with a courtesan and sets about destroying their relationship. It’s only as he watches the suffering of his son as Violetta is dying that he accepts the consequences of his actions.

This production, with its “Striking visual elements” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), is by Tony Award-winning theatre, film and television director Michael Mayer .

With Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Verdi’s La Traviata is available to view on the Met Opera website from 7.30 pm EDT on Friday, August 28, until 6.30 pm EDT the following day.

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Met Opera streams Verdi’s ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’

Verdi Week continues at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, August 27, with Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) – recorded for the Company’s Live in HD series, and broadcast on December 8, 2012.

Although the plot revolves around the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792, this production by David Alden moves the action to a timeless, film noir-inspired setting, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia, Marcelo Álvarez as King Gustavo, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count Anckarström, Kathleen Kim as the page Oscar, and Stephanie Blythe as the fortuneteller Madame Ulrica Arvidsson.

The libretto of Verdi’s opera is by Antonio Somma, whose text was apparently based on the libretto which French dramatist Eugène Scribe had written for Daniel Auber’s 1833 opera, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. In this work, Scribe wrote of the king’s assassination – he died of gunshot wounds received during a masked ball as the result of a political conspiracy against him.

Verdi’s version, which premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on February 17, 1859, is a dramatic tale of love, betrayal and revenge, telling of the Swedish king’s love for Amelia, wife of his best friend and counsellor Count Anckarström. Although King Gustavo is warned of a plot against his life by both Anckarström and a fortuneteller, the king doesn’t take either warning seriously, but when Anckarström discovers that the monarch is having an affair with his wife, things take a more serious turn.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are conducted by Fabio Luisi, and Un Ballo in Maschero is available to view from 7.30 pm EDT on Thursday, August 27, until 6.30 pm EDT on Friday, August 27.

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Alondra de la Parra launches The Impossible Orchestra

The current pandemic has without doubt stirred the creativity of many arts organisations and artists, and Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra has provided yet another example of what can be achieved, seemingly against all odds.

So touched was she by the plight of the women and children of her homeland who are particularly vulnerable to the social, health and economic consequences of the coronavirus, that she has gathered – remotely – 28 illustrious stars of classical music, from 14 different countries, to create an ensemble which takes the name of The Impossible Orchestra.

The line-up of artists is breathtaking, and includes names such as Albrecht Mayer, Emmanuel Pahud, Maxim Vengerov, Rolando Villazón and Alisa Weilerstein, with Elisa Carrillo Cabrera – Mexican principle dancer of the Staatsballet Berlin – and Christopher Wheeldon – one the finest choreographers of today. Each has willingly given of their time and considerable talent to record a video performance of de la Parra’s arrangement of Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No 2, to raise funds for the benefit of these women and children, via the charities Fondo Semillas and Save the Children Mexico.

An official Cultural Ambassador of Mexico, Alondra de la Parra is a former Music Director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and frequently works with some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, including the Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. She has also led some of the major orchestras in Latin America – such as the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra – and in 2004 founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas to showcase young performers and composers from the Americas.

The music of Mexican composer Arturo Márquez was largely unknown outside his homeland until the early 1990s, when he was introduced to the world of Latin ballroom dancing. Captured by the movement and rhythms, he composed a series of Danzónes – a fusion of dance music from Cuba and the Veracruz region of Mexico. The most popular of these, his Danzón No 2, was commissioned by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and its popularity has often led it to be referred to as the second national anthem of Mexico.

This video performance of the Danzón No 2 is an absolute joy to watch. Not only is the Márquez work a justifiably popular choice, with its infectious, jazzy rhythms, but the performance has been stylishly filmed and edited, and the artists featured are obviously enjoying themselves hugely – some playing instruments with which they’re not usually associated. Ms de la Parra herself is at the piano and not on the podium. It’s fun, too, to see how many stars you can recognize during the performance, before looking at the list of those appearing on the website.

A gala fundraising event for The Impossible Orchestra will shortly be announced, and the soundtrack to the video will soon be available from Alpha Records.

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Yoncheva and Beczala star in Met Opera’s online presentation of ‘Luisa Miller’

In the third presentation of its Verdi Week, the Metropolitan Opera streams a performance of Luisa Miller, first broadcast on April 14, 2018, as part of the company’s Live in HD series of cinema transmissions.

This online performance stars Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva in the title role, with Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Luisa’s beloved Rodolfo, in what Operawire describes as “An Unquestioned Triumph for Yoncheva and Beczala”. Plácido Domingo is Luisa’s father, Alexander Vinogradov is the duplicitous Count Walter and Dmitry Belosselskiy is Wurm, his steward.

Luisa Miller was really something of an afterthought for Verdi. In 1848, he was under contract to Teatro San Carlo in Naples to produce an opera, but his initial proposal was rejected, and having failed to negotiate his way out of the contract, Verdi persuaded his librettist, Salvadore Cammarano, to produce “a brief drama with plenty of interest, action and above all feeling – which would make it easier to set to music”. This Cammarano did, basing his libretto on Friederich Schiller’s tragic play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), and the opera premiered in Naples on December 8, 1849.

Set in 19th century England, this story of love, deception, drama and tragedy tells of Luisa, a young village girl, who is in love with a man she knows as Carlo, but who is in fact the debonair nobleman Rodolfo, son of Count Walter. Her father has another prospective husband in mind for her, just as Walter has a different potential bride lined up for Rodolfo, and the Count, together with his scheming steward, Wurm, is determined to prevent the two young lovers from marrying. Treachery and intrigue abound, and Luisa ultimately has to make the agonizing choice between her father and the man with whom she is in love.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Bertrand de Billy, celebrated French conductor of opera and concerts worldwide.

This presentation is available to view on the Metropolitan Opera website from 7.30 pm EDT on Wednesday, August 26, until 6.30 pm EDT on Thursday, August 27.

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Met Opera streams Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’

Verdi Week at the Metropolitan Opera continues on Tuesday, August 25, with the online transmission of Il Trovatore (The Troubador). This production, recorded on October 3, 2015 as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, stars soprano Anna Netrebko as Leonora, tenor Yonghoon Lee is the troubadour Manrico, Count di Luna is sung by the late Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Dolora Zajick is the mysterious gypsy woman Azucena, and Štefan Kocań is Ferrando, captain of the troops.

Il Trovatore was composed in 1853, with a libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano. Based on the 1836 play El toreador by Antonio García Gutiérrez, the opera premiered in the same year, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome.

Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service, is in love with Manrico, a troubadour who serenades her every evening, but Count di Luna is obsessed by her. He has also sworn to avenge what he believes to be the death of his infant brother at the hands of a gypsy woman. Manrico has been brought up to believe that the gypsy Azucena is his mother, but isn’t aware that he is actually the brother of the Count, and that Azucena accidentally killed her own child. The actions of Azucena all those years ago affect each of the main characters in the story, and lead to a train of events which end in tragedy.

British director David McVicar made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera when he first staged this production in 2009. Moving the action from 1409, he set it against the backdrop of the Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon, taking inspiration for his designs from Francisco Goya’s 82 prints, Desastres de la Guerra.

Marco Armiliato leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Choir in this performance of Il Trovatore, which is available to view from 7.30 pm EDT on Tuesday, August 25, until 6.30 pm EDT on August 26. For further details, visit the Metropolitan Opera website.

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Met Opera pays homage to Giuseppe Verdi

This is Verdi week in the Metropolitan Opera’s series of free online transmissions. Devoted to some of the greatest operatic works written by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, the program features complete performances of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Luisa Miller, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Traviata, Don Carlo and Falstaff – each recorded as part of the company’s Live in HD series.

Performances are available for a period of 23 hours, from 7:30 pm EDT until 6:30 pm the following day. 

Rigoletto is the first of Verdi’s operas to feature this week, a work which he wrote in 1851, to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Based on Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, Rigoletto tells of the hunch-backed jester at the court of the Duke of Mantua, and his desperate attempts to protect his daughter from a disastrous relationship with the lecherous Duke. It was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851, and originally entitled La maledizione (The Curse), referring to a curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a nobleman, Monterone whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke, with the encouragement of the jester.

This production by Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer, brings the action of Rigoletto to the bright lights of 1960s Las Vegas, where money and ruthless men hold the balance of power. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Piotr Beczała is the Duke – a popular entertainer and casino owner who is out to get everything he wants. Diana Damrau is Rigoletto’s innocent daughter, Gilda, whose seduction by the Duke leads to a tragic end, and Štefan Kocán takes the role of the assassin Sparafucile.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Italian conductor Michele Mariotti, Musical Director of Teatro Comunale di Bologna since 2014. The performance, recorded on February 16, 2013, can be viewed online on Monday, August 24. For further information, visit the Metropolitan Opera website.

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SFJAZZ streams 2020 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell, Reggie Workman & Dorthaan Kirk –
photo courtesy SFJAZZ

This week SFJAZZ, together with the National Endowment for the Arts, hosts a very special event – a tribute to the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters – Dorthaan Kirk, Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell, and Reggie Workman – in a free broadcast.

The National Endowment for the Arts has, since 1982, awarded 157 fellowships to great figures in jazz, artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Dianne Reeves, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, and George Wein – and SFJAZZ was selected to host the 2020 NEA ceremony in a live concert on April 2nd this year – the first time that this auspicious event was to be held outside New York City or Washington, DC. Due to the worldwide closure of theatres, this honor was denied the San Francisco organisation which is regarded as one of the world’s leading presenters of jazz.

Undeterred, and because of the success of its weekly online Fridays at Five sessions, SFJAZZ and Musical Director, drummer, and composer Terri Lyne Carrington, have succeeded in putting together a remarkable online celebration in tribute to the honorees. With 2017 NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater as emcee, this performance features appearances by honorees McFerrin, Mitchell and Workman, by Bridgewater and Carrington, as well as other acclaimed jazz musicians such as Ambrose Akinmusire, James Carter, Vincent Davis, Gerald Clayton, Morgan Guerin, Oliver Lake, Jevon McFerrin, Madison McFerrin, Taylor McFerrin, Kanoa Mendenhall, Junius Paul, and Steve Turre, as well as the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. All performances have been recorded from locations across the country.

Bobby McFerrin – master vocal improviser, vocalist, composer and ten-time GRAMMY winner – has performed and conducted in both jazz and in classical settings. He’s well known for his 1988 worldwide hit Don’t Worry, Be Happy which showcased his virtuoso musicality and four-octave range.

Saxonophist and composer Roscoe Mitchell is known as a pioneering figure in avant garde jazz. Currently Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, he has also worked with Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since its inception, and is co-founder of the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Reggie Workman, bassist and composer, is regarded as one of the great instrumentalists in jazz history, and well known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. A professor at The New School in New York, Workman has appeared on numerous albums with an impressive line-up of artists.

Dorthaan Kirk, jazz advocate and widow of jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk, is a founding staffer at WBGO in Newark, NJ, and a regular curator of jazz events around New Jersey. Dedicated to maintaining the legacy of her late husband, and promoting jazz education, she has been a major figure in jazz radio for over 40 years.

“This virtual concert will be an opportunity to bring together jazz fans around the world in celebration of the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters,” says Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the NEA who – along with Randall Kline, Founder and Executive Artistic Director of SFJAZZ – will be commenting on the concert.

From 6.10 pm to 7.00 pm PT (after the concert), there’ll be a Virtual Reception and Q&A Session with Randall Kline and the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters, during which the online audience, through the broadcast’s YouTube stream, will be able to ask questions of the Jazz Masters.  Viewers can also join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #NEAJazz2020.

Watch this free broadcast online on Thursday, August 20, 2020 on arts.gov or sfjazz.org at 5.00 pm PT (8.00 pm ET, and 1.00 am London, 2.00 am Paris on Friday morning).

For those unable to watch the live stream, an archive of the concert will be available following the event at arts.gov.

Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

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Metropolitan Opera streams Puccini’s ‘Turandot’

Giacomo Puccini’s final opera Turandot is this evening’s online transmission from the Metropolitan Opera. A sumptuous production by Franco Zeffirelli, the performance stars Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as the icy Princess Turandot, and Italian tenor Marco Berti as Calaf, the prince who would win her heart, with Romanian soprano Anita Hartig as the slave girl Liù, This production was originally broadcast as part of the Met Opera’s Live in HD cinema series, on January 30, 2016.

Renato Simoni – librettist, director and theatre critic – suggested to Puccini that he write a lyric opera based on Friedrich Schiller’s version of the fairytale Turandotte, by the Venetian author Carlo Gozzi in 1762. In 1919, Simoni and librettist Guiseppe Adami – who had already written libretti for Puccini’s La rondine and Il tabarro – started work on the text. Five years later, the score was still not finished, and Puccini died in 1924, before the opera had been completed, and he was therefore unable to enjoy the success of one of his most popular works. The last duet and finale were written by Italian composer and pianist, Franco Alfano in 1926, but were not included in the premiere, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan on April 25 of that year.

Set in Peking, this somewhat dark opera tells of the beautiful, but icy, Princess Turandot who is determined never to be possessed by a man. She sets her suitors the task of answering three riddles – which, until the arrival of Prince Calaf – none of them had successfully done, resulting in their execution. Distraught at the thought of having to marry Calaf, she willingly accepts his challenge of guessing his name before dawn, instructing her subjects not to sleep until his name has been discovered – hence the introduction of the most popular aria in the opera, Nessun dorma (None Shall Sleep). Thanks to the sacrifice of the slave girl, Liù – in love with Calaf, but who suffers torture, and ultimately death, rather than reveal his name – Turandot weakens, and Calaf ultimately wins her hand.

Paolo Carignani leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s Turandot, which will be available to watch on the Metropolitan Opera website from 7.30 pm EDT on Thursday, August 13, until 6:30 pm EDT the following day.