Cookie settings

This tool helps you select and disable various tags / trackers / analytics tools used on this website.







»What does Turandot fear?«


OPERA in three acts
based on a work by CARLO GOZZI

Director  CLAUS GUTH
Costume Design


The second series is conducted by AXEL KOBER;
FABIO SARTORI sings the role of Calàf.

Introductory matinee 26. NOVEMBER 2023
Premiere 7. DECEMBER 2023
Premiere series 7. / 10. / 13. / 16. / 19. / 22. DECEMBER 2023
2nd Series 1. / 4. / 7. / 10. JUNE 2024


Turandot poses three riddles. Three ministers warn of the death awaiting the candidate who does not answer them. And three artists then tried to complete Giacomo Puccini’s unfinished work as the dead composer intended. When Calàf, the dethroned Mongol prince who has fled to Peking, falls in love with Princess Turandot, he is in mortal danger. He can only be her bridegroom if he solves the Princess’s three riddles. Anyone who fails will be executed, like all the previous can didates. Calàf’s father, Timur, and Liù, who loves Calàf without his knowledge, plead with him in vain. He accepts the challenge.

In the score of Puccini, the great musical storyteller, the individual and society form a highly disturbing contrast. The inflexible system which Turandot has created around herself has ceremonial and grotesque features, total organisation and manipulated mass hysteria. A world suspended between Turandot’s impregnable attraction and apparently unceasing rituals of application, warning, testing and death. It is peopled by shadows and priests. Harshly exaggerated ministers utter their warnings in a tone veering musically between provoca- tion and mockery – we believe them when they say they are equally pre- paring for a wedding and a funeral. As a basis for all this, the score and the state, there is the mob which varies between screaming for blood and begging for mercy for the con- demned. An incalculable, uncanny multitude.

Puccini coded his score with tonalities which his audience would ascribe to an oriental culture, a pentatonic musical language, and specific choice of percussion. These alien but famailiar sounds enact a play of deception. Embedded in Puccini’s own musical language, they create a new context, a Puccini Peking which seems to lead to distant regions, but in reality has no existence outside the theatre. Interestingly, Puccini’s Peking is related to his »Wild West« in La fanciulla del West, where the composer uses the pentatonic scale to hint at »foreignness«.

We can interpret the story as saying that Calàf has a similar feeling. He is fascinated by Turandot, and triumphantly solves her riddles. But even after he finds the last answer – »Turandot« – he is far from solving the nature of the princess. The fascination with strangeness – in this case, the princess – is a fascination with an illusion. Can Calàf succeed in reaching the woman behind it? Puccini’s composition ends with Liù’s death. He was unable to complete the grand finale, the happy encounter of Turandot and Calàf. But the composer left a hint, as well as an unfinished opera. He had sought a very special music, particularly for the final duet – the opera was meant to sound »tipica, vaga, insolita« at this point, according to Puccini’s annotation in the score. »Typical, indistinct, unusual.« He left himself a riddle with this, a task for his inheritors, specifically and generally. How do you set a story, an event, a feeling in music?

Upon the recommendation of the conductor of the premiere, Arturo Toscanini, Franco Alfano composed an ending. Independently of this, Toscanini ended the world premiere where Puccini’s composition finished, in memory of the composer. But Toscanini was not entirely satisfied with Alfano’s work, and polished and shortened it for the subsequent performances. This version initially established itself in the history of the piece, and Alfano’s ending was forgotten until its rediscovery in 1978. In 2002 Luciano Berio tried a new version of the final duet, with a particular focus on the kiss between Calàf and Turandot. All three versions have their separate perspective and appeal, although Franco Alfano's original ending most strongly portrays Turandot’s complex psy- chology. Claus Guth’s production is based on this original version.


About the playlist

Framed by the sonically spectacular studio recording under Zubin Mehta, this playlist is a journey through the Turandot history of the Vienna State Opera, beginning with the singers of the Vienna premiere, Lotte Lehmann and Jan Kiepura. The incredibly versatile Maria Cebotari, Helge Rosvaenge and Hilde Güden represent the Viennese Turandot performances of the post-war years at the Theater an der Wien. After Cebotari's untimely death, Gertrude Grob-Prandl was the Vienna Opera's most powerful-voiced Turandot before Birgit Nilsson triumphed in the 1961 new production, alongside Giuseppe di Stefano as Calaf and Leontyne Price as Liu. In the years that followed, the Birgit Nilsson / Franco Corelli duo was the absolute benchmark for this opera worldwide. Of the 1983 Vienna new production, Eva Marton in the title role is most remembered.  Aleksandra Kurzak as Liu stands for the last series of the opera in Vienna so far, Jonas Kaufmann's recording announces the premiere in December, in which he will sing the part of Calaf alongside Asmik Grigorian.

Who is Turandot? She established a highly bureaucratic and brutal reign of terror – nobody can move in it unobserved, anyone who comes too near her is executed.

Private and social protective walls are always born of fear – what does Turandot fear? What do we fear? What is a protected, safe life worth if it allows reality to enter only through highly diversified filters?

A man – Calàf – is prepared to break through all these protective walls. Why does he do this? Does he have nothing to lose? Does he love Turandot? Or does he just want to seize her power for himself?

In contrast to the mythical and exotic setting, Puccini creates a sensitively drawn psychogram of two very dif- ferent people, whose behaviour is precisely motivated. It is important to bring this out and arouse our interest in the people behind the system.