Puccini’s Opera: Turandot

Turandot [1926]

Opera Turandot is set in Beijing, China and tells the story of proud Princess Turandot and unknown Prince Calaf. Turandot is a haughty Princess who wants to take revenge for a crime once committed against one woman in her ancestry line by condemning young princes from afar to their deaths. To achieve this aim, Turandot demands that every man that wants to marry her has to solve her three riddles. Whoever solves her three puzzles will become her husband, but if that person is unable to solve them – he will be executed. However, despite very probable deadly consequences of this trial-riddle imposed by the Princess, there is no shortage of young men willing to risk their lives since Turandot is very beautiful. Then, comes Calaf, a Prince travelling with his father Timur and a slave-girl Liu, and he will stop at nothing until he completes the challenge and wins the hand of Turandot. Turandot is an opera of extravagant displays, great passions and narrative contrasts and extremes. Puccini’s music diffuses Asian tones and makes use of powerful choirs, providing a kaleidoscopic musical experience, with the heart-wrenching final-act aria “Nessun dorma” rightly deserving its place among the finest operatic arias ever.

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Puccini’s Opera: Madama Butterfly

Madama (Madame) Butterfly [1904

This is an opera by Giacomo Puccini, with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on a short story Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long, which, in turn, was inspired by Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Chrysanthème [1887]. In this story, Lieutenant Pinkerton of the US Navy stationed in Nagasaki marries a fifteen-year old Japanese girl from a once rich, but now impoverished family. Pinkerton is restless, fickle and is simply looking forward to romancing a pretty girl, while Cio-Cio-San (his new wife (Madame Butterfly)) seems to have taken her vows with the same zeal and devotion one takes holy orders. Pinkerton disappears shortly after the wedding, promising to return. But, will he? When the Lieutenant finally decides to return, the situation is far more complicating that either he or Madame Butterfly could imagine. First premiered in Milan in 1905, Madama Butterfly is an opera of great emotional depth and psychological insight. The beautiful music with lots of drama and touches of light charm often accentuates hope born, dashed and then re-born as Madame Butterfly tries to come to terms with her situation throughout the story, clinging desperately to her unreachable western ideal.

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Mozart’s Opera: The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute Poster The Magic Flute [1791] 

This opera (see this great production) was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and is based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The opera premiered in 1791, just two months before the composer’s demise. The story is about the adventure of Prince Tamino and bird-catcher Papageno in the kingdom of Sarastro, after the Queen of the Night persuaded Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina. The Magic Flute was pretty much the product of its time, encompassing humanistic messages which stress the victory of reason and love over vulgarities and superstitions. Notoriously, Mozart is said to have incorporated some “secrets” of Freemasonry into his opera, especially those connected with the initiation process (such as a trial by four elements), see some explanation here. Indeed, the opera is all about mystical symbolism as it fuses family drama, “striving for social utopia” ideas, fantasy and humour. Exotic settings and elements, transformations and miracles also form part of this opera. Continue reading “Mozart’s Opera: The Magic Flute”