Puccini: Turandot / Callas, Schwarzkopf, Serafin
Maria Callas, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf / Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin
Puccini’s final, and unfinished opera, set in Imperial China, features perhaps the most famous of all arias, the tenor’s glorious ‘Nessun dorma’. It is sung in the final act by Prince Calaf, expressing his confidence that no one in Peking will discover his name before sunrise. He has guessed the answers to the three riddles set to her royal suitors by the beautiful, but icy Princess Turandot. A succession of princes has already paid the price of failure: execution. Calaf has, however, struck a bargain with Turandot: if she finds out his name, he will die; if she does not, she will be his. Puccini’s score, completed after his death by Franco Alfano, is breathtaking, shot through with oriental colour and melody, and full of brutality, pageantry and lyricism. The soprano in the title role makes a spectacular entrance with her narrative aria ‘In questa reggia’, while the subsequent Riddle Scene brings strenuous sparring with the tenor. Contrasting with the Chinese princess is the gentle, but courageous Liù, a slave girl who has long been in love with Calaf. Her heartbreaking ‘Signore, ascolta’ launches the spinetingling finale to Act I, while in Act III her two arias, followed by her suicide, finally thaw Turandot’s heart.