Turandot – Royal Opera House Muscat

We just came back from a lovely evening… and I must say that Turandot was just amazing …. Franco Zeffirelli was the directer and the set design as well…. the set was honestly out of this world … but the star of the evening was Plácido Domingo he was the Maestro tonight.

The Story:

Turandot is the beautiful cold-hearted femme fatale princess who basically lures love-struck princes to their death. Anyone who wants to marry her is asked three riddles: If he answers them right he gets to marry her, but if he doesn’t he is beheaded. This is stated at the very beginning of the opera as “the law” (“La legge è questa”).


In front of the imperial palace (Peking)

In a square filled with people near the Forbidden City, a Mandarin reads an edict: any prince seeking to marry Princess Turandot must answer three riddles – and if he fails, he will die. Her latest suitor, the Prince of Persia, is to be executed at the rise of the moon. Bloodthirsty citizens urge the executioner to go ahead, and in all this chaos a slave girl called Liù, cries out for help when her aged blind master is pushed to the ground. A handsome Prince recognizes him as his long-lost father the King Timur, who fled a long time ago. When the old King tells his son, Prince Calàf, that only Liù has remained faithful to him, the Prince asks her why. She replies it is because once, long ago, he Prince Calàf smiled at her…… The crowd cries for blood again….. the moon emerges, and everyone falls into sudden, fearful silence. The doomed suitor passes on the way to execution,the crowd feels sorry for him and asks Princess Turandot to spare his life. Turandot appears and, with a small gesture, bids the execution to proceed. The crowd hears a death cry from a distance…… Calàf, falls in love with the princess at 1st sight, and is determined to win her heart, striding to the gong that proclaims the arrival of a new suitor. Turandot’s 3 ministers and advisors Ping, Pang and Pong try to discourage the unknown Prince, they warn him that he will die…..Timur and Liù also warn him and beg him to change his mind…… But despite their pleas, Calàf strikes the fatal gong and calls out Turandot’s name.


 Scene 1: A pavilion in the imperial palace. Before sunrise

Ping, Pang, and Pong prepare themselves for either a wedding or a funeral!!!

Ping longs for his country house in Honan, with its small lake surrounded by bamboo…..Pong remembers his grove of forests near Tsiang, and Pang recalls his gardens near Kiu. The three share fond memories of life away from the palace but are shaken back to reality. At the palace trumpet sounds, the ministers prepare themselves for another spectacle as they await the entrance of the Emperor Altoum (Turandot’s father)

Scene 2: The courtyard of the palace. Sunrise

The Emperor Altoum, urges the the unknown Prince to withdraw from this challenge but the Prince refuses ….. Turandot enters and tells the story of her ancestor Princess Lou-Ling and how she was brutally treated by a prince who later murdered her …… and as a result Turandot has sworn never to let any man possess her. She warns the Prince to withdraw, but again he refuses. The Princess then presents her first riddle:  What is born each night and dies each dawn? she asks….. the Prince correctly replies, “Hope.” The Princess, unnerved, presents her second riddle “What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?”…. The Prince thinks for a moment before replying, “Sangue” – “Blood”. Turandot is shaken. The crowd cheers the Prince, provokes Turandot’s anger. She presents her third riddle “What is like ice, but burns like fire?”……. As the prince was thinking, Turandot taunts him “what is the ice that makes you burn?” The taunt makes him see the answer and so he answers…. “It is Turandot!”

The crowd cheers for the triumphant Prince. Turandot throws herself at her father’s feet and pleads with him not to leave her to the Prince’s mercy. The Emperor insists that an oath is sacred, and it is Turandot’s duty to wed the Prince. As she cries out in despair, the Prince stops her, saying that he has a proposal for her: “You do not know my name. Bring me my name before sunrise, and at dawn (all’ alba), I will die.” Turandot accepts. The Emperor declares that he hopes to call the Prince his son come sunrise.

Just a side note:

I know that it doesn’t look like a smart move from the Prince, I mean he has already won right?  So why should he give her another chance to get away?….  You see, nothing in this opera makes sense if taken literally…… the Prince’s statement here is poetic. He actually wants to “lose” !!!!  he wants her to tell him his name and he wants to “die.” The Prince tells Turandot “Bring me my name before sunrise, and at dawn I will die.”…. Notice that he does not say IF you guess my name…. He doesn’t want to force her to marry him he wants her to fall in love with him….so in other words he wants her to find out his name and to choose not to execute him!!!!


Scene 1: The palace gardens. Night

In the distance, heralds call out Turandot’s command: “This night, none shall sleep in Peking! The penalty for all will be death if the Prince’s name is not discovered by morning”. The Prince waits for dawn and anticipates his victory: “Nessun Dorma– “Nobody shall sleep!…(this is my favorite aria)

Ping, Pong, and Pang appear and offer the Prince women and money if he will only give up Turandot, but ofcourse he refuses. A group of soldiers then drag in Timur and Liù. They were seen speaking to the Prince, so they must know his name. Turandot enters and orders Timur and Liù to speak. The Prince tells her that they know nothing. But when the guards begin to treat Timur harshly, Liù declares that she alone knows the Prince’s name, but she will not reveal it. Ping demands the Prince’s name, and when she refuses, she is tortured. Turandot is taken aback by Liù’s resolve and asks her who put so much strength in her heart. Liù answers “Love!”. Turandot demands that Ping tear the Prince’s name from Liù, and he orders her to be tortured even more. Liù tells Turandot “You are like ice but  you too shall learn to love”…… (The words of that aria were actually written by Puccini. Waiting for Adami and Simoni to deliver the next part of the libretto, he wrote the words and when they read them, they loved it and decided to keep it.) …….Anyway Liù somehow gets a dagger from a soldier’s belt and stabs herself…. and then she walks towards the Prince and falls dead!!! (she does this to make sure that he knows her sacrifice for him and that she loved him!!!) ……the crowd  screams and asks Turandot to speak the Prince’s name….. Since Timur is blind, he had to be told about Liù’s death, and cries out in anguish when he finds out. Timur warns the crowd that the gods will be offended by this outrage,….. the crowd is suddenly subdued with shame and fear….. The grieving Timur and the crowd follow Liù’s body as it is carried away. Everybody leaves, and so the Prince and Turandot are alone. He tells Turandot how cruel she is but then takes her in his arms and kisses her in spite of her resistance. (Puccini dies before completing this opera and this is actually where his work ends. The remainder of the music was completed by Franco Alfano.)

The Prince tries to convince Turandot to love him by kissing her. At first she is disgusted ofcourse, but after he kisses her, she gets overwhelmed and admits that, ever since he came, she had both hated and loved him…… She begs him to ask for nothing more and to just leave, and taking his mystery with him. But the Prince, reveals his name to her, “Calàf, son of Timur” and places his life in her hands!!!

Scene 2: The courtyard of the palace. Dawn

Turandot and Calàf approach the Emperor’s throne. She declares that she knows the Prince’s name……. “Amore” ……The crowd cheers.


Here is a translation of my favorite aria Nessun Dorma though in my opinion the libretto of Opera Turandot in general doesn’t translate easily because it’s very poetic….. I don’t mean just the lyrics, but the entire plot doesn’t make much sense if taken too literally…. but for what it’s worth here it is!

The Prince
Nessun dorma, nessun dorma … 
Tu pure, o Principessa, 
Nella tua fredda stanza, 
Guardi le stelle 
Che tremano d’amore 
  E di speranza.
No one sleeps, no one sleeps… 
Even you, o Princess, 
In your cold room, 
Watch the stars, 
That tremble with love 
  And with hope.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me, 
Il nome mio nessun saprà, no, no, 
Sulla tua bocca lo dirò 
Quando la luce splenderà, 
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio 
  Che ti fa mia.
But my secret is hidden within me; 
My name no one shall know, no, no, 
On your mouth I will speak it 
When the light shines, 
And my kiss will dissolve the silence 
  That makes you mine.
Il nome suo nessun saprà 
E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir.
No one will know his name 
And we must, alas, die.
The Prince
Dilegua, o notte! 
Tramontate, stelle! 
All’alba vincerò!
Vanish, o night! 
Set, stars! 
At daybreak, I shall conquer!