Janáček Opera Ensemble and Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno
Premiere 29th April 2011, Janáček Theatre
Video produced by ARTSTUDIO, a partner of the Janáček Opera
The beautiful princess Turandot has sworn that she will marry only the prince who solves her three riddles. Anyone who stands trial and fails will lose his head. Prince Calaf, captivated by Turandot’s beauty, takes up the challenge, determined to win her heart or die in the attempt. Calaf succeeds in solving the riddles but Turandot refuses to become his wife. However Calaf offers Turandot a way of escape: if she can discover his name before daybreak, he will consent to die...
In 1920 Giacomo Puccini began searching for a new theme for an opera. The librettists, Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, suggested Turandot, a play by the Italian poet and playwright, Carlo Gozzi written in 1762. However, the history of the bloodthirsty princess dates back to the 12th century where her character appeared in a collection of Persian stories called The Book of One Thousand and One Days by the Persian poet Nizemi. The French orientalist, François Pétis de la Croix, translated the collection into French and published them, thereby introducing the legend to Europe.
Puccini spent the last four years of his life on the composition of Turandot. There were many delays in finishing the libretto and it was reworked several times before the composer was satisfied. Due to the delays and Puccini’s health problems, the work did not progress at a fast rate. In November 1924 Puccini lost his battle with throat cancer leaving the opera unfinished. He had completed the opera up until the final duet, however he had left detailed sketches and instructions for the end of the opera. Franco Alfano was given the task to complete the opera and Turandot had its premiere on 25th April 1926 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, although this performance included only Puccini’s music and not Alfano’s ending. During this initial performance the conductor Arturo Toscanini famously laid down his baton in Act III, declaring ‘at this point, the Maestro died’. On subsequent nights the opera was performed with Alfano’s ending. In 2001 the Italian composer, Luciano Berio, created a new ending based on Puccini’s sketches as well as expanding the musical language. This ending has been sanctioned by Puccini’s estate and was first performed in the Canary Islands in 2002, followed by Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Salzburg.
After more than 15 years, Puccini’s Turandot returns to the stage of the Janáček Theatre. The new staging of the opera is the work of the renowned artistic duo: the director Jiří Nekvasil and the designer Daniel Dvořák, who along with the costume designer Simona Rybáková have prepared an impressive production aimed to show the best of contemporary theatre.
The crowd gathered outside the gates of Beijing listens to the declaration of the Emperor's orders: the man who is able to solve three riddles shall win Princess Turandot's hand in marriage.He who fails shall lose his head. Calaf, a Tartar prince, who had to flee from his enemy-occupied country hears the statement. In the crowd he finds his father, King Timur, who is accompanied by his faithful slave girl Liu. Calaf is delighted by this meeting with his father. Preparations for the execution of a Persian prince, who was a candidate for the hand of Turandot, are under way. Princess Turandot arrives and Calaf, struck by her beauty, decides to take the test. Both Timur and Liu, and three royal ministers, fail to deter him. The gong strikes and he announces himself as a suitor for the princess.
The ministers Ping, Pang and Pong are tired of the eternal executions of the Princess's suitors, whose number is constantly growing. And now another fool is putting himself forward. The crowd in front of the Imperial Palace watches as another suitor enters the fray. Even Emperor Altoum questions his intention, but the Prince insists. Turandot arrives, and she tells how long ago China was ruled by her grandmother Lou-Ling. She was kidnapped by the Khan of the Tartars, who attacked and looted the whole country and violated Lou-Ling. This is how Turandot took revenge against men and she therefore never wants to know what love is. Calaf solves the three riddles, but Turandot refuses to accept him as her husband. When the prince sees her resistance, he does not wish to use violence to assert his victory. He offers Turandot also the opportunity to guess - if by dawn she can guess his name, he promises to undergo death.
Turandot sends troops into the streets of Beijing to find out the name of the unknown man. The Ministers offer the Prince great riches if he tells them who he is. The servants drag in Timur and Liu, in whose company the Prince was seen, and forced them to disclose his name. Turandot herself wants to know the answer and Liu, in order to save Timur from torture, claims that only she knows the Prince. Even torture does not cause her to reveal her secret. Finally, Liu rips a dagger from one of the guards and stabs him with it. The Prince accuses Turandot of cruelty. He tears off her veil, kisses her and whispers his name to her. Turandot asks him to appear with her before the people. Turandot reveals the solution to the the puzzle before the Emperor: the name of the unknown Prince is love.