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Turandot [libretto] by Giacomo Puccini

Turandot [libretto]

by Giacomo Puccini

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Turandot is the last opera of Puccini, one of opera’s greatest. Nearing completion when Puccini died of a heart attack in 1924, it was finished by Franco Alfano in 1926. This wonderful, short opera is both enrapturing and poignant. Tears roll as though on cue.

Turandot is based on the fairy tale of the princess, Turandot, that demands her suitors to answer three riddles; any wrong answer results in a beheading. In the end, she finds love in the “Unknown Prince”, Calaf. Puccini added comic relief in the form of Ping, Pang, Pong – the three ministers. And being Puccini, a tragic heroine is required – Liu, the slave girl.

Turandot’s aria, Nessun Dorma, was made super famous in 1990, when The Three Tenors performed it during the pre-final game of World Cup in Italy. Luciano Pavarotti continued to sing Nessun Dorma as his signature piece; some may say belting it out as a Dramatic Tenor, as opposed to the Lyric Tenor that he is. But don’t expect to hear such bravado at the opera itself. This aria is meant to be sung by a Lyric Tenor.

Reading an opera libretto is very similar to reading a play – the staging, the position of individuals, the layering of verses sang by different individuals or groups, etc. The teleprompter in the opera house does quite a disservice to the translation. This book edition is the original translation from 1926 and still printed in Italy today.


The power of a smile – Liu’s love for Prince Calaf. Liu cared for his father, Timur, for many years after his exile:
Prince: “And why, child, hast thou shared so much anguish?”
Liu: “Because one day, from the Palace, you smiled at me!”

Ping, in trying to dissuade the Unknown Prince from attempting to win Turandot’s love, to save his own life, offers this bit of humorous advice:
“Leave women alone! Or take a hundred wives, a hundred wives, for, after all, the most sublime Turandot in the world has but one face – two arms and two legs – yea, wondrous, majestic, nevertheless, only those! With a hundred wives O fool, thou wilt have legs galore! Two hundred arms! And a hundred bosoms fair! On one hundred couches scattered!”

Ping, Pang, Pong lamenting over the many deaths of Princes that failed to answer the riddles:
“For years now our feasts have been reduced to joys like these: Three sounds of the gong, three riddles and off with more heads!...”

Riddle 1:
“In the depths of night an iridescent phantom takes its flight. It soars and spreads its wing over infinite humanity wrapped in gloom! Addressed in supplication and evoked by all, the phantom disappears at dawn to be reborn within the heart of man! And thus each night it is born anew, to fade away at the night of the day!”
Answer: (Anagram) EOPH

Riddle 2:
“It spurts like a flame, and yet is not a flame!
At times it is deliriant! And always a fever!
A fever impetuous, full of intensity! But inertia transmutes it into langor!
If thou losest or makest forfeit of thy life, cold it grows!
If thou dreamiest of conquest, in ardency it glows!
Its voice in agitation thou perceives.
Of the setting sun it has the vivid glow!”
Answer: (Anagram) DOLOB

Riddle 3:
“Ice which gives thee fire! And from thy fire ice begets! Candid and obscure! If freedom she grants thee, into greater slavery thou fallest! If as slave she accepts thee, a King thou shalt be!”…
Answer: (Anagram) DANROUTT

Nessun Dorma – the famous aria:
Nobody Shall Sleep! … Neither shalt thou, O Princess,
In thy cold chamber thou watchest the stars twinkling with love and hope,
But within me hidden lies my mystery,
My name no one shall know!
Only by the light of morn
Upon thy lips will I whisper it!
And my kiss shall break the silence that shall make thee mine!...
O Night depart! O Stars hasten your setting!
At the dawn of day, conqueror I shall be!

Liu’s final aria, who sacrifices herself to save Timur and the Unknown Prince, and teaches Turandot about Love:
“Yes!... Princes! Listen to me!...
Thou who in ice art girth, vanquished by so much fire, thou also wilt love him! Ere the day shall dawn, my tired eyes I will close, that victory may be his once more… in death I will repose!..” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Aug 16, 2012 |
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