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Puccini's "Turandot"

Puccini's "Turandot": The End of the Great Tradition

William Ashbrook
Harold Powers
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Puccini's "Turandot"
    Book Description:

    Unfinished at Puccini's death in 1924, Turandot was not only his most ambitious work, but it became the last Italian opera to enter the international repertory. In this colorful study two renowned music scholars demonstrate that this work, despite the modern climate in which it was written, was a fitting finale for the centuries-old Great Tradition of Italian opera. Here they provide concrete instances of how a listener might encounter the dramatic and musical structures of Turandot in light of the Italian melodramma, and firmly establish Puccini's last work within the tradition of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. In a summary of the sounds, sights, and symbolism of Turandot, the authors touch on earlier treatments of the subject, outline the conception, birth, and reception of the work, and analyze its coordinated dramatic and musical design. Showing how the evolution of the libretto documents Puccini's reversion to large musical forms typical of the Great Tradition in the late nineteenth century, they give particular attention to his use of contrasting Romantic, modernist, and two kinds of orientalist coloration in the general musical structure. They suggest that Puccini's inability to complete the opera resulted mainly from inadequate dramatic buildup for Turandot's last-minute change of heart combined with an overly successful treatment of the secondary character.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6667-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-11)

    On the final page of William Weaver’sThe Golden Century of Italian Opera—actually a decade or so more than a century—appear the following words:

    as he reached the conclusion of Liu’s death scene, Toscanini laid down his baton and said, in effect (he has been quoted variously): “The opera ends here, because at this point the Maestro died. Death was stronger than art.”

    The opera ends here. Toscanini might have been speaking not just of Puccini’s last work but of Italian opera in general. Of course, other new Italian operas were composed and performed in the decades that...

    (pp. 12-42)

    Opera is a compound, not an amalgam. For convenience, elements in the compound may be thought of as mined separately from the Aristotelian quarries of action, character, social and physical mise-en-scène, language, and music. When they co-occur in the theater, however, the elements do not retain all their separate and original properties; they become a new substance altogether, with properties all its own. Subatomic features in the several elements are electrically bonded in the chemistry of the genre. If those generic elements are dissociated from the compound analytically, alone they may appear impoverished or distorted. Libretto language stripped of its...

    (pp. 43-58)

    Carlo Gozzi (1720–1808) is chiefly remembered today as the original author of fantastic plays made into operas:Turandot; La donna serpente(Wagner’sDie Feen);L’amore delle tre melarancie(Prokofiev’sLyubov k trem apel’sinam), andIl re cervo(Henze’sKönig Hirsch). Like Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793), Gozzi incorporated aspects of traditionalcommedia dell’arteinto written plays, but where Goldoni took a decisive step toward realism, Gozzi felt that the old form lent itself better to fantasy, to myth, to fairytale, to pantomime, and indeed to opera, so far as opera is conceived as fundamentally anti-realist. The operatic cognates of Goldoni’s...

    (pp. 59-88)

    Not sinceManon Lescauthad a Puccini opera a birth as tortuous asTurandot, nor such prolonged and circuitous questions about its basic structure. To follow the trail from Puccini’s first favorable response to the subject, in his letter to Simoni of 18 March 1920, to his death on 29 November 1924 with the crucial final scene still in drafts and sketches, to make sense of all the tangents and backtrackings, requires close appraisal of the evidence. Letters between Puccini and his librettists survive which shed light on the evolution of text and music. Yet they sometimes give only a...

    (pp. 89-114)

    The first sounds heard inTurandotare what we have called the “Execution” motive: a ponderousfortissimoorchestral unison whose descending chromatic fourths—first diminished, then augmented—cadence into f# minor, the principal stable tonality of the opening number (I.A). The same motive at a faster tempo and different pitch level leads into a “bicentric” chord composed of a middle-register C#-major triad superimposed over a low-register d-minor triad; the composite in this instance arrives as the dominant harmony of f# minor. This much is shown in Example 1 above (Chapter 1, p. 16).

    The frequently heard and immediately recognizable sound...

    (pp. 115-140)

    In eighteenth-centuryopera seriathe paradigmatic scene type was the solo aria, in which lyric verse was set in a formal and continuous musical texture, with much text repetition for musical extensions. Each aria would express an affect or a reaction, on the part of a single character, to preceding action and dialogue set in recitative verse and texture. Needless to say, solo scenes and arias of various kinds continued to play a prominent role in themelodrammaof the Great Tradition, but by the second and third decades of the nineteenth century duet scenes, and a grand medial Finale,...

    (pp. 141-164)

    Puccini’s letters to his librettists reveal how often he imagined action in terms of quite detailed stage pictures. It is not surprising, therefore, to find him taking the initiative in consulting with scene designers and costumers. He was already concerned about the stage picture in early June 1921, while he was composing music for the two sets of the original long Act I. On 7 June 1921 the composer reported to Simoni (CP, ltr 759, p. 506) that he had received sketches from Pietro Stroppa (1878–1935), a notable scenic artist, and also floor plans (piante) for the two sets...

    (pp. 165-168)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 169-184)
    (pp. 185-188)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 189-193)