Turandot

The opera takes place in legendary ancient China, in Peking. Altoum, the emperor, is old and frail; before dying, he would like to see his daughter, the Princess Turandot, married and prepared to rule with her husband. The cold-hearted Turandot has sworn a terrible oath. An ancestress of hers, Princess Lo-u-Ling, was ravished and killed by a for...

The opera takes place in legendary ancient China, in Peking. Altoum, the emperor, is old and frail; before dying, he would like to see his daughter, the Princess Turandot, married and prepared to rule with her husband. The cold-hearted Turandot has sworn a terrible oath. An ancestress of hers, Princess Lo-u-Ling, was ravished and killed by a foreign conqueror. Recalling this terrible event, Turandot has sworn that no man shall ever possess her. Still, her many suitors are offered a chance: if one of them is capable of answering the riddles she asks, then she will marry him. If he fails, he must die.

Calaf, prince of the defeated kingdom of Tartary, incognito and exiled, falls in love with Turandot at the first glimpse of her. He is determined to face the challenge of the riddles. His old father Timur tries to dissuade him, and so does the slave-girl Liù, secretly and hopelessly in love with him. Turandot’s cynical ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, add their entreaties, and yet Calaf remains steadfast.

The ordeal is tense. Inspired, Calaf solves Turandot’s riddles and wins her hand. But he wants also to win her heart. He now gives her a chance to defeat him. She does not know his name: if she can discover his identity before dawn, he will die.

Peking passes a sleepless night as Turandot uses every possible stratagem to discover the name of the Unknown Prince (whom the ministers try to bribe with riches and beautiful women). When Turandot learns that Liù knows the secret, the slave-girl is tortured; but she kills herself rather than betray her love. This love impresses even the icy Turandot. And when Calaf kisses her, she responds with unexpected human warmth. So Calaf puts himself in her power, telling her who he is.

The next morning, as Emperor, court and populace assemble to learn the fate of the bold suitor, Turandot proudly announces that she knows the foreigner’s name: it is Love. The ice-princess has become an impassioned woman.


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