HISTORY OF THE WORK (continued)

Puccini was undoubtedly attracted to the theme by a number of factors: exotic settings were appealing not only to him, but had proven highly successful in Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West, as well as icons of the 2nd half of the 19th century such as Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, Hèrodiade and Thaïs by Massenet, Lakmè by Dèlibes, Verdi's Aidia, and Strauss' Salome.

Another motive was the contrast of this plot-line to the veristic themes chosen for his earlier works. A third element was probably his fascination for the character of Turandot - the cruel, icy princess, who is quite different to any of Puccini's previous leading ladies - sweet and obedient figures who were doomed to suffer and die for love.

The composer was particularly taken by the transformation of the leading protagonist at the end of the opera. In addition, he stipulated that his librettists fill the work with a wide variety of characters: Ping, Pang and Pong provide brilliant humor, whereas the sympathetic and tragic slavegirl Liù (who doesn't feature in Gozzi's story at all) was created to counterbalance the Princess, much in the style of Puccini's earlier heroines.

Puccini's definite aim was to break away from Gozzi's model which was bound to the style and conventions of the Commedia dell’Arte of the 18th century. He also wanted to avoid the neo-classical style that another composer from Tuscany, Ferrucio Busoni, had used for the same story. Busoni's Turandot was closer to Gozzi's original and received its world premiere at Zurich in 1917.

The writing and composition of Puccini's Turandot proved particularly laborious and took almost five years. The orchestration was almost complete in early 1924. Only the great final duet (after Liù's death and the scene in which Princess Turandot is transformed by the unknown Prince's kiss into a warmhearted human being capable of love) was missing. Puccini had written various fragments and concepts for this finale, but had not completed the opera. On November 4, 1924, Puccini was rushed to a Brussels clinic to be treated of a tumor in his throat. He died of heart failure on November 29, following an unsuccessful operation.

Turandot, which had been scheduled for its world premiere at Teatro alla Scala under Arturo Toscanini, was left unfinished - with the vital scene in which the icy princess "melts" actually missing. Toscanini decided to commission Franco Alfano (a former pupil of Puccini’s) to use the master's final sketches and undertake the difficult task of completing the opera.

Finally, on April 25, 1926, Turandot was premiered at La Scala. The cast included Rosa Raisa (Turandot), Miguel Fleta (Calaf), and Maria Zamboni (Liù). The section prepared by Alfano was not, however, performed on the opening night - following Liù's death scene, Toscanini put his baton down, turned to the public and announced: "Here the Maestro died".

Puccini's music in Turandot is in many respects extremely modern in style. The composer used his utmost creative resources to set the complex thematic material and produce a work which ranks as one of the monuments of 20th century music-theater. One shouldn't forget that while he was composing Turandot, Puccini attended the world premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire in Florence. The hallucinatory and ghostly atmosphere depicted in that work left their mark on the Italian composer's writing.

Turandot shared a common fate with several other great 20th century operas including Doktor Faust (Busoni), Moses and Aaron (Schoenberg) and Lulu (Alban Berg) - all were left unfinished by their composers. A fate which makes them all the more fascinating.


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