Puccini / Turandot

Giacomo Puccini 1858-1924


Puccini, the great Italian composer who wrote La bohème, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, and  Turandot – all among today’s most performed operas, all with absolutely heartrending music at their center, is along with Verdi, one of the most esteemed composers of Italian opera.  His final opera Turandot, which includes the great tenor aria ‘Nessun dorma’, is one of the few 20th-century operas to have sustained a firm foothold in opera houses across the world. When working on his last work, Puccini said: “Almighty God touched me with his little finger and said, ‘Write for the theatre – mind, only for the theatre’. “And I have obeyed his supreme command.”

Young Giacomo was born in Lucca, Italy in 1858, into a family of musicians and composers with a strong musical tradition, and received a formal musical education in Milan. On seeing his first opera, Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, a 15-year-old Puccini said he “felt a music window had opened.”

Now widely considered the ‘heir of Verdi’, Puccini is known as one of the most influential composers of Italian opera. While his early work is traditional, late-19th-century Romantic Italian opera, Puccini became better know for writing in the verismo style – Italian for “realism.” His works are known for their lush melodies, emotional intensity, and keen understanding of dramatic storytelling. He wrote 12 operas in total – Le Villi (1884), Edgar (1889) Manon Lescaut (1893), La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1990), Madama Butterfly (1904), La Fanciulla del West (1910), La Rondine (1917), Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi) (1918) and Turandot (1926). 

Turandot is one of Puccini’s most celebrated and unfinished operas. The opera’s libretto, written in three acts by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, is based on Carlo Gozzi’s play of the same name, which, in turn, draws inspiration from a Persian collection of stories known as “One Thousand and One Nights.” The word Turandot is Persian and means “the daughter of Turan” – a region of Central Asia which used to be part of the Persian Empire. The 12th-century Persian fairy tale it’s based on, is known as Turandokht, with both the “kh” and “t” clearly pronounced.

Set in ancient China, Puccin’s opera explores themes of love, power, and redemption and is known for its grandiosity. The opera tells the story of a beautiful but cold-hearted Chinese princess, Turandot, who challenges her suitors with riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in their execution. The narrative unfolds as an unknown prince, Calaf, takes up the challenge, risking his life for the chance to win Turandot’s love. The opera is set against the backdrop of ancient China and is renowned for its grandeur, intricate vocal writing, and the famous aria “Nessun Dorma,” which has become one of the most recognizable and beloved arias in the operatic repertoire.

Turandot Overature Score

Puccini’s death in 1924 left “Turandot” incomplete. Franco Alfano, another Italian composer, was commissioned to finish the last scene based on Puccini’s sketches. The opera premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1926, two years after Puccini’s death, and it has since become a staple of the operatic repertoire. Turandot stands out not only for its musical brilliance but also for its depiction of complex characters and its exploration of themes such as love, sacrifice, and the redemptive power of compassion. The work remains a testament to Puccini’s mastery of the operatic form and his ability to create enduring, emotionally resonant works that continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

Puccini’s place in musical history is secured by his ability to evoke deep emotions through his compositions, his innovative use of orchestration, and his mastery in creating characters that resonate with audiences. His operas, characterized by their lush melodies and intense dramas, continue to be celebrated and performed worldwide, cementing Puccini as a central figure in the operatic canon.