Theatre / Turandot

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Believe her when she says she'll have your head on a stick.

Turandot is an opera by Giacomo Puccini. It is mostly based on a 16th-century stage play version of an ancient fairytale first set in writing by a 12th-century Persian poet.

In ancient Beijing, the beautiful ice princess Turandot executes any potential suitor who can't answer her three riddles. Nevertheless, the poor lads seem to come to the city in droves, and among them our Hero, the Unknown Prince Calaf. Upon his arrival on stage, he meets his long-lost father, the old and blind King Timur, and with him his guide, the slave girl Liu.note  Cue the last of Turandot's unhappy suitors, the Prince of Persia (no, not that one), being sentenced and beheaded. Calaf sees Turandot for the first time and immediately falls in love with her (duh). Everyone, including Turandot's three ministers, tries to talk some sense into the enamored prince, but he, of course, is determined to win Turandot's hand no matter what. He manages to answer her riddles correctly, and theoretically, he's the winner, but Turandot still refuses to marry him. Calaf, being a prince and a gentleman, offers his conditions: if she learns his name before sun rises, she can add his head to her palace's fancy decorations. If not, however, she must shut up and become his wife.

Turandot gleefully tells her people they must learn the Unknown Prince's name before night ends or she'll kill 'em all in most horrid ways imaginable. Cue Calaf, singing his famous aria "Nessun Dorma". The Beijing folks try to bribe Calaf to get himself out of there and thus save their arses, but he's a Heroic Tenor, so he won't listen. Then Timur and Liu are brought on stage, tied up and beaten. They've been noticed speaking to Calaf in the beginning of the opera, so they're supposed to know his name. Turandot comes and mass torture is about to ensue, when Liu says she alone knows his name but won't tell. She then kills herself, fearing she might give Calaf's name away under the horrible tortures. Followed by the epic Tear Jerker when everyone mourns the brave little Liu and carries her body off the stage.

At this point, Turandot suffered a major case of Author Existence Failure, because Giacomo Puccini died of laryngial cancer after he gave up on the opera nine months before. He visited the conductor Arturo Toscanini before he went away to chemotherapy and begged him: "Don't let my Turandot die!". It was left to his disciple Franco Alfano to finish the opera, although he initially wanted Riccardo Zandonai according to his notes. But the publisher Ricordi chose Alfano because they assumed he would make more money, which proved to be wrong. The ending is still wildly debated to this day, and some other composers, most recently Luciano Berio and Hao Weiya, have written their own versions.

It's a famous opera and known to be freakishly difficult to sing, especially the parts of Turandot and Calaf.


Tropes include:

  • Defrosting Ice Queen: What Turandot is after Calaf gives her a passionate Forceful Kiss. Some of the lyrics make this comparison explicit.
    • Most of the new endings are designed to give the princess a bit of time to melt and get used to the idea.
  • Determinator: "Let the whole world fall, I want Turandot!". Yeah, sure.
  • Does Not Like Men: Turandot is willing to execute the entire population of Beijing to avoid getting married.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Nessun Dorma has this in shades.
  • Dragon Lady: One of the classical examples of the exotic, beautiful Chinese villainess.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Inverted. The bass Timur is a nice old guy, the baritone Ping is snarky but not evil, and the lead soprano, let's face it, is a total bitch.
  • Femme Fatale: Turandot completely. She's beautiful, exotic, mysterious and dangerous.
  • Femme Fatalons: Turandot often has them, as a noblewoman of China would have had.
  • Final Love Duet: Calaf and Turandot get one. Not very convincing, though.
  • Go Out with a Smile: The Persian prince. As the crowd begs Turandot for mercy, he walks calmly to his death.
  • God-Emperor's Hands Are Tied: The Emperor, who was a living god in ancient China, is legally bound to let his daughter play her deadly game of riddles.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Technically, the princess, but she's the one who rules.
  • Greek Chorus: The chorus. Plus the three ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong. Their gestures and manners are derived from classic Chinese opera combined with Italian commedia dell'arte stylings.
  • Happy Ending: Uncharacteristically for a Puccini opera, Turandot has one - which probably explains some of the criticism it gets from professional critics. The Berio ending, while exquisitely beautiful and using almost all of Puccini's outline, is more ambiguous.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Liu of course, who takes her own life so that she doesn't accidentally betray Calaf under torture.
  • Incredibly Long Note: LOTS of these. Both the loud and soft varieties. Two famous portrayers of the roles of Turandot and Calaf, Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli, used to have friendly competitions over who could hold the famous High C the longest in their synchronised phrase in Act 2.
  • "I Want" Song: "Nessun Dorma", though it's more like an I'll Have Song.
  • Karma Houdini: Turandot has a fancy for torture (as her three ministers tell us), she has executed 13 people already (and probably much more in the past) and has driven a loving, caring and innocent girl to suicide. And what does she get in the end? A Happy Marriage, no less.
  • Large Ham: You have to be this to pull off Turandot. Or for that matter Calaf.
  • Love Triangle: Calaf, Turandot, Liu.
  • Messianic Archetype: Liu. Often lampshaded with a Crucified Hero Shot in Act 3.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Calaf has already passed the tests and won the princess's hand in marriage. There really is no reason to offer her an extra chance and all it accomplishes is to put every single man, woman and child in Beijing in mortal peril and leads directly to Liu's death.
    • His rationale is that Turandot has begged him not to take her by force, as happened to her ancestor.
  • Please Wake Up: Timur to Liu. It hurts.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Calaf's fixation with getting Turandot is supposed to be romantic, but the guy is willing to let an entire city die in order to get her.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Just how many times have you heard this tune?
  • Real Place Background: Turandot at the Forbidden City might qualify.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What did Puccini intend for the opera's ending? Because of combined Author Existence Failure and Executive Meddling, we would never know for sure.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Turandot keeps beheading men because eons ago some foreign jerk violated and killed her great-great-great-grandmother.
    • Specifically, the foreign jerks were Tartars — and that's what Calaf is.
  • Scenery Porn: Opera directors can get a bit carried away with Turandot's set design. See here and here.
  • Tenor Boy: Though of a more manly variety than usual.
  • These Questions Three: Turandot's challenge to her suitors, with death as the penalty for not answering correctly.
  • Those Three Guys: Ping, Pang, Pong.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Liu.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: Turandot gets one after seeing Liu kill herself.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Theatre/Turandot