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It is salutary to remember that this Chinese tale set in legendary times was worked up by Carlo Gozzi as passionate propaganda for the obsolescent commedia dell'arte. Hence Ping, Pang and Pong, whose woes can sometimes bore us stiff. Improbably the play was chosen by Goethe and Schiller in 1790 as part of their scheme to launch a German National Theatre in Weimar, and Schiller duly adapted it to his classic taste. Puccini went to the opposite extreme. Turandot now has an ancestress raped and murdered by a barbarian king. Hence her psychopathic loathing of men and her insatiable demand for their heads.

A scene from Act II of Puccini's 'Turandot'. DVD screenshot © 2006 Opus Arte
A scene from Act II of Puccini's 'Turandot'. DVD screenshot © 2006 Opus Arte

Puccini presents us at once with her grisly decree. She will pronounce to any potential suitor three riddles: failure to solve them involves summary decapitation [watch and listen -- 'Popolo di Pekino!' (Act 1), chapter 2, 0:36-1:36]. Calaf (Kenneth Collins), prince of Tartary, is so dazzled by the princess's beauty, which operagoers have sometimes to take for granted in exchange for her voice, that sight of the young Prince of Persia going to his fate under the murderous control of lifeguards from some Bondi beach cannot shake his resolve to attempt Turandot's test [watch and listen -- 'O giovinetto!' (Act 1), chapter 6, 13:37-14:52]. A Chinese moon, considerably larger than the one we're used to, has also risen to survey the unedifying spectacle.

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Copyright © 3 May 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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