Theatre: Turandot

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

Turandot is an opera by Giacomo Puccini.

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 spades, and among them our Hero, the Unknown Prince Calaf. Upon his arrival on stage, he meets his long-lost father, the old and blind Timur, and with him his guide, the slave girl Liu. 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, namely Luciano Berio, 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:

  • Beta Couple: Liu and Timur, a non-romantic example.
  • Betty and Veronica: Liu and Turandot
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor little Liu.
  • Captain Obvious: The three ministers Ping, Pong and Pang. They also qualify as
  • Deadpan Snarkers
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: What Turandot is after Calaf gives her a passionate Forceful Kiss. Some of the lyrics make this comparison explicit.
  • Determinator: "Let the whole world fall, I want Turandot!". Yeah, sure.
  • Dawson Casting: As often happens in opera, Turandot is supposed to be a young girl but it's an extremely difficult part to sing and is usually not taken by anyone younger than 35. Inverted with Timur, Calaf's aged father, who's often played by a singer at least a decade younger than his supposed "son".
  • Does Not Like Men: Turandot is willing to execute the entire population of Beijing to avoid getting married.
  • 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.