The Met Streams Turandot

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Met Free Streaming – Week 10

Thursday, May 21

Puccini’s Turandot ~2Hrs and 23Mins

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Christine Goerke, Eleonora Buratto, Yusif Eyvazov, and James Morris. Transmitted live on October 12, 2019.

Christine Goerke – alias ‘Heldenmommy’- is widely regarded these days as one of opera’s greatest living dramatic sopranos. Here she takes on Puccini’s title role, the proud princess of ancient China, whose riddles doom to death every suitor who dares seek her hand. Franco Zeffirelli’s gigantic, lavish production (that has been around for over 30 years!) is conducted this time by the dynamic Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Goerke stars alongside tenor Yusif Eyvazov (as Calàf) and beautiful lyric soprano Eleonora Buratto (as Liù). It is a completely over-the-top staging which absolutely dazzles the eye in its opulent golden vision of mythic China.

As the curtain rises, a Mandarin announces the law of the land “Popolo di Pechino!” (People of Peking – “Any man who desires to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles. If he fails, he will be beheaded”), and as the Prince of Persia has just failed, he is about to be beheaded at moonrise. In the crowd, a blind old man is pushed to the ground and his slave-girl, Liù cries for help. A young man rushes to her aid, recognizing the old man as his long-lost father, Timur, who is the deposed King of Tartary. Calàf is overjoyed to be reunited with his father, but immediately cautions them not to speak his name lest they be discovered by Chinese officials and arrested.

We learn that only Liù has remained faithful to Timur, and when asked why, she tells them that once, long ago in the palace, Prince Calàf himself had smiled upon her (ah, what would opera be without its tragically faithful women! – and here we even have yet another love triangle in the making). The handsome, young Prince of Persia is being marched toward the particularly buff ax man whose handiwork is displayed on poles decorating the stage while the crowd implores Turandot to have mercy. She appears, and with a single imperious gesture (no singing at all!) orders the execution to continue. That sight, however, is enough to cause Calàf to fall hopelessly in love with her (yep, hard to understand some guy’s attraction to cold, bloodthirsty women).

Be that as it may, he is ready to take on the riddle challenge and moves towards the gong which signals another head is on the line, when the ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong (our comic relief after the execution) show up and attempt to dissuade him. Opinions on Ping, Pang and Pong differ – I happen to think they add wonderful charm to a decidedly un-charming story – however, even as far back as the opera’s premiere in 1926, one critic called them the “three prattlers who have escaped from a perverted dream of Gilbert and Sullivan.” You’ll just have to judge for yourself. Despite Ping, Pang, and Pong’s efforts, and Liù’s impassioned plea not to risk his life “Signore, ascolta!” (My lord, please listen), Calàf sings his first famous aria “Non piangere, Liù!” (Don’t cry, Liù), but remains unmoved. He calls Turandot’s name three times, and each time Liù, Timur, and the ministers reply, “Morte!” (Death) and the crowd declares, “stiamo già scavando la tua tomba!” (we’re already digging your grave!). He sounds the gong three times and the die is cast.

After another Ping, Pang, Pong interlude, we are treated to the incredible Imperial Palace set with its gigantic “floating” platforms and interconnecting pathways where the riddle contest will take place. The old Emperor, tired of so many executions, also tries to convince Calàf to reconsider – still no luck. After resting up for the entire first act, we have a soprano tour de force in the second. Turandot enters and recounts the horrible tale of her ancestor, Princess Lou-Ling, who was abducted and killed by a conquering prince “In questa reggia” (In this realm). This is supposed to explain her need to behead an exceptionally long line of Princes hoping for her hand.

The Princess presents her first riddle: “Straniero, ascolta!” (Stranger, listen… What is born each night and dies each dawn?) The Prince correctly replies, “Speranza” (Hope). The Princess, unnerved, presents her second riddle: “Guizza al pari di fiamma” (What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?). The Prince thinks for a moment before replying, “Sangue” (Blood). The crowd cheers the Prince, provoking Turandot’s anger. She presents her third riddle: “Gelo che ti da foco” (What is ice which gives you fire and which your fire freezes still more?) As the prince thinks, Turandot taunts him “what is the ice that makes you burn?” The taunt allows him to see that she is referring to the two of them – the answer he proclaims, “E Turandot!”

So, the Prince has won, but there is still an entire act to go and we have yet to hear the most famous aria,” Nessun Dorma” (No one sleeps…. but at dawn, I shall win!). He declares he will not take Turandot by force, he wants her love, and offers her an “out” – Tell me my name before sunrise, and at dawn, I will die. To hear how the opera’s second challenge goes, as well as Liù’s beautiful, “Tu che di gel sei cinta…” (You who are made of ice …. you will love him (too)) before she stabs herself to escape from Turandot’s torture and to save Calàf, you’ll want to stay for the visually stunning and musically gorgeous last act – even if, like me, you aren’t so fond of Calàf’s choice in women!

Picture Credits

1.              Christine Goerke as Princess Turandot and Yusif Eyvazov as Calàf in Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

2.             Eleonora Buratto as Liù, front, with Christine Goerke in Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Marty Sohl /Met Opera.

3              Yusif Eyvazov and Christine Goerke in Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit… Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times.

4.              The final wedding scene of Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Met. Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

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