A lyric drama in three acts.
Music: Giacomo Puccini (completed by Franco Alfano)
Turandot, daughter of Altoum, Emperor of China, is no ordinary
princess. Long ago, one of her ancestors, Princess Lo-u-Ling was ravished
and murdered by a foreign conqueror. As a consequence, Turandot has sworn
an oath. She will never be possessed by a man. She will never marry. This
does not mean that a man may not ask for her hand in marriage.
He may do so provided that he agrees to undertake a test, the solution
of three riddles. One further condition adds interest to the competition.
Failure to answer the three riddles has a painful reward - death at the
hand of the State executioner.
The oath, which has brought about the death of many would-be husbands,
causes Altoum, old and nearing the end of his life, great pain. If only
Turandot would marry and share the throne of China with her husband, he
could die in peace. Knowing Turandot's hardness of heart, he believes that
this is most unlikely...
A crowd has assembled inside the walls of Peking. The Prince of Persia
is the most recent in a long line of suitors who have tried to solve the
riddles set by Princess Turandot. Like those before him he has failed. All
that awaits him now is death.
Imperial guards try to keep back the onlookers who jostle each other
to get a better view of the execution. Among the crowd is an old blind man
who, unable to move easily in such a crowd, stumbles and falls. The old
man is Timur, who was once king of Tartary. Defeated in battle, he was
driven from his land and now lives in exile. He feels strong arms
embracing him. Chance has reunited him with his long lost son, Prince
Timur tells Calaf of his long wanderings and of the devoted support he
has received from his companion, a young slave girl, Liù. It is
soon obvious that Liù is not only loyal to her royal master, but
also deeply in love with his son. The happy reunion is interrupted. The
servant of the executioner arrives.
When Calaf learns that Turandot is responsible for the deaths of so
many young men, he is appalled. But when Turandot appears, his disgust for
her turns to wonder. He is bewitched by her beauty.
Timur and Liù are quick to realise what Calaf is thinking.
Surely he would not risk his life in an attempt to solve the riddles? The
challenge would mean certain death. But Calaf's mind is made up. He feels
certain that he can succeed - even though all before him have
To signify that he is a suitor for Turandot's hand, Calaf moves to
strike the great gong. Before he can do so, three Government ministers,
Ping, Pang and Pong, block his way. "Don't be so foolish", they say, "It's
an impossible task". But Calaf is determined, even deaf to the entreaties
of his father and Liù (Signore, ascolta). Calaf consoles Liù
(Non piangere Liù). Shouting the name "Turandot", he strikes the
Ping, Pang and Pong meet to discuss the situation in China. People are
tired of the endless round of executions. Ping, Pang and Pong long for
their country houses: "Oh that we could retire and forget about Turandot's
Then eight wise men appear. They carry the scrolls which contain the
solution to the riddles. Emperor Altoum begs the unknown Prince (Calaf) to
refuse the challenge. 'Leave' he advises 'and live. If you accept the
challenge, then death is certain'. But Calaf refuses to change his
Turandot appears and explains the reasons for her cruel test (In
questa reggia). She says that she believes she is the reincarnation of
Princess Lo-u-Ling. No man will ever possess her. The riddles may seem a
strange way to protect her from her suitors. But they never fail.
Calaf accepts the challenge and answers the riddles. Turandot is his.
But, he asks himself, what is the point of winning her if I don't win her
heart? So he suggests another test. 'You do not yet know my name' says
Calaf. 'If you can discover it before sunrise you can treat me like the
other suitors, I am not frightened to die'.
Calaf, the 'Unknown Prince', waits for the dawn. Turandot, who is
determined to discover his name has decreed that no one may sleep until it
is discovered. The prince echoes this order (Nessun dorma). Ping, Pang and
Pong try to bribe Calaf to leave Peking and give up his plans to marry
Turandot. His refusal to do so annoys them and infuriates the crowd.
Suddenly the situation worsens. Timur and Liù have been held on
suspicion of knowing the name of the 'Unknown Prince' (Tu che di gel sei
cinta). They are dragged in and Turandot is summoned to confront
On learning that Liù can provide the name that will enable
Tuarandot to remain unmarried, Turandot commands that the girl be
tortured. Liù refuses to submit, explaining that she loves the
'Unknown Prince'. How could she betray him! Liù realises that to
protect Calaf she must place herself outside the powers of her torturers.
She kills herself.
Love of such intensity impresses even Turandot. Alone together Calaf
challenges her to become human, to show love and affection. He kisses her
and for a moment it seems as if she has changed. Calaf, as a sign that he
trusts her tells her his name and so places himself in her power.
The Trumpet sounds. The court is summoned. Turandot faces her father,
his courtiers and the people of Peking. Proudly she declares that she has
discovered the name of the stranger.
'His name is Love'.