During a brief visit to Milan in the spring of 1920, Puccini met with Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, the two talented writers whom the publishing house of Ricordi had engaged as librettists for the next opera to be composed by the master.
The three had been searching for a suitable subject since the completion of Il Trittico two years earlier. Numerous projects had been considered and discarded. Puccini told his collaborators that he was no longer interested in setting music to conventional melodramas, and that his thoughts were now directed towards some fantastic, fairy-tale subject which was at the same time human and moving.
It was Simoni who suggested that they looked for such a subject in the works of Carlo Gozzi, an 18th century Venetian playwright who had successfully developed a unique style derived from exotic fairy-tales, ancient fables and traditional mask comedies. He gave Puccini a copy of Gozzi's Turandotte, which he believed would meet the composer's demands for something fantastic, remote and unreal, but interpreted with human feeling and presented in modern colours.
Simoni was right. Puccini soon decided that his next opera would be Turandot, a work destined to be his greatest, finest and technically most advanced masterpiece, which he was unable to finish when death intervened on 29 November 1924. He left 23 sheets of annotated sketches for Franco Alfano to complete the crucial love duet and the jubilant finale.
Singapore Lyric Opera's forthcoming production will endeavour to be faithful to Puccini's intentions in invoking a fantastic, remote and unreal world characterized by strong contrasts and contradictions of human emotions: love and hate, cruelty and compassion, courage and fear, denial and sacrifice. We shall create an atmosphere of magic and mystery through which powerful action and conflict move swiftly towards denouement and resolution.
We shall follow Puccin's instruction on the very first page of the score: to unfold the action in a China of legendary times; not the familiar glaring hues of Ming, nor the fastidious ornaments of Qing. Our milieu is rich yet austere, reflecting the mystical rites of the bronze age and the harsh life in a primitive society.
Here is a world of absolute hierarchy. On the lowest stratum are the superstitious and blood-thirsty populace with rapidly changing moods. Above them are the soldiers and executioners. Further up, we have the old king Timur in exile with his slave Liu, symbol of pure love and selfless sacrifice. Higher still are the priests and officials led by the three ministers with their bitter cynicism and secret yearning. On a plane of their own are the demigods, Calaf and the princess of ice, Turandot, fighting the eternal combat between the sexes, on which the whole drama revolves. Finally, at an unreachable height is the emperor Altoum, son of heaven, god of his own realm.
The 'modern colours' in which Puccini and his librettists wanted to present their masterpiece, of course, lie in the wonderful music, the beautiful and poignant melodies, the splendid harmony and the brilliant orchestration. All these elements will be carefully prepared by conductor Tsung Yeh and skillfully performed by our singers, dancers and choruses.
Turandot is a magnificent choice with which to pay tribute to Giacomo Puccini in this 150th anniversary of his birth.
- LO King-man