GP at the Met: Turandot - Turandot in Historical Context

Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot, in 25 April 1926.

Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, in 25 April 1926.

Turandot is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini (December 22, 1858 – November 29, 1924). Puccini’s final opera is an epic fairy tale set in a China of legend, loosely based on the play “Turandot” by the 18th-century Italian dramatist Carlo Gozzi. Featuring a most unusual score with an astounding and innovative use of chorus and orchestra, it is still recognizably Puccini, bursting with instantly appealing melody. The librettists for Turandot were the playwright and journalist Giuseppe Adami, who had previously worked with Puccini on Il Tabarro and La Rondine, and Renato Simoni, who had written librettos for other composers as well.

April 25, 1926: World Premiere at La Scala in Milan

Almost a year and a half after Puccini’s death, Turandot premiered in Milan. The opening night performance omitted the Alfano finale, with Toscanini putting down his baton where Puccini had abandoned the score when he died. Reportedly, Toscanini turned to the audience and said, “Here the composer died.”  Alfano’s ending has been invariably used for performances of the opera. The works of Alfano are rarely performed today, though Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) was seen at the Met in 2005.

November 16, 1926: The Met Opera Premiere

The Met gave the United States premiere of Turandot in 1926, shortly after the Milan premiere. Tullio Serafin conducted a cast featuring one of Puccini’s favorite sopranos in the title role, Maria Jeritza, paired with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi as Calàf.

1930-1961:

Beginning in 1930, Turandot was not performed for more than three decades at The Met. It did not return until 1961 when Birgit Nilsson took on the princess.

December, 1987:

The current production by Franco Zeffirelli had its premiere with James Levine conducting and starring Eva Marton, Placido Domingo, and Leona Mitchell.

September, 1998: Turandot at the Forbidden City

Until the end of the 20th century, Turandot was banned in the People’s Republic of China because of the way the opera portrays China and the characters. For example, three of the comic characters are named Ping, Pang, and Pong. The ban was lifted in 1998 with an inaugural performance at the Forbidden City in Beijing, which later aired on Great Performances in 1999.