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.