March 15-19, 2024
Princess Turandot shows no mercy to those who seek her hand in marriage. Suitors travel from distant lands only to face three impossible riddles, with failure meaning death. When the exiled Prince Calaf falls for Turandot, he accepts her deadly challenge head-on. To Turandot’s dismay, he succeeds; but Calaf offers a way out of the marriage by giving Turandot a riddle of his own. Prevailing where others have failed, can Calaf melt Turandot’s icy heart?
Sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.
A Mandarin reminds the crowd that any suitor for the hand of Princess Turandot must answer three riddles to win her hand and that, having failed to do so, the Prince of Persia must lose his head. In the melee, the spectators knock over an old man and a young woman calls for help. A young man rushes to their aid and recognizes his long-lost father, Timur, the exiled king of Tartary. Timur introduces his companion, the slave girl Liù to his son Prince Calaf (who is incognito). Calaf asks why she is guiding the blind king, she replies that one day in the palace, Calaf smiled at her. While the executioner’s servants sharpen his sword, the crowd calls for the moonrise to signal the execution. When the crowd sees the young Prince of Persia, they call for mercy and pity. Turandot appears and sentences the Prince to death with a gesture. The procession moves on and the crowd disperses.
Calaf is transfixed by Turandot’s beauty. Timur and Liù attempt to bring him back from his distracted state, but he rushes toward the gong that will signal his attempt at the three riddles. Three ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, try to dissuade him. However, Calaf is steadfast in his decision. Turandot’s handmaidens admonish them into silence since Turandot is sleeping. Calaf resists the combined pleas of Timur, the ministers and even the ghosts of previous suitors, who all try to persuade him to abandon the challenge. But Calaf insists his love will triumph. Liù pleads with Calaf to give up the quest or both Timur and she will die on the road to exile. Calaf replies that for the sake of that long-ago smile, Liù should make Timur’s life easier on the road. Despite the desperate pleas, Calaf ecstatically strikes the gong three times.
The three ministers meet to begin preparations for either a wedding or a funeral. They recall past contenders and remember their peaceful lives before the executions: Ping in his house in Hunan, Pong in his forests near Tsiang, and Pang in his garden in Kiù. They long for the day when a suitor will triumph and Turandot will wed. Sounds from the palace rouse them from their reverie and they hurry off to the trial.
The crowd greets the procession from the palace, including Emperor Altoum, who also tries unsuccessfully to persuade Calaf to give up his quest. The Mandarin announces the trial and Turandot appears. She describes how the rape and murder of her ancestor, Princess Lo-u-Ling, has inspired her determination never to be possessed. She warns Calaf that the riddles are three, death is one. He counters that the riddles may be three, but life is one. Turandot poses the riddles. Calaf struggles but answers all three. The crowd rejoices, but Turandot begs her father not to give her to the stranger. The Emperor replies that the oath is sacred. Confronted with Turandot’s reluctance, Calaf offers a compromise. Although he answered three riddles, he will pose only one: if Turandot can discover his name before dawn, he will die. If she cannot, they will wed. Turandot agrees and the Emperor hopes that the dawn will bring him a son-in-law.
Distant voices proclaim Turandot’s command that no one shall sleep until the unknown prince’s name is discovered. Calaf reflects that he will keep his secret until he can reveal it himself on Turandot’s lips at dawn when he triumphs. The three ministers try to tempt him to reveal his name by using provocative maidens, riches, and glory. But Calaf is adamant. Guards drag in Timur and Liù, who had been seen talking with Calaf the day before. Calaf protests that they know nothing, but the guards seize Timur to torture him. Liù intervenes and claims that she alone knows the name but will not give it up. The guards begin to torture her. Turandot questions Liù about what gives her such strength, and Liù replies, it is love. Faced with the executioner, Liù defies Turandot and predicts that Calaf’s ardor will melt Turandot’s ice and she will understand love. Liù seizes a dagger from a guard and kills herself. The crowd is horrified and Timur proclaims that Liù’s spirit will be avenged. Timur then takes the dead girl’s hand as the crowd carries her away.
Calaf blames Turandot for Liù’s death, but still declares that he will wed Turandot. She insists that as an imperial daughter of heaven, she is beyond his reach. Ignoring her protestations, Calaf takes her in his arms and kisses her. Utterly transformed by the kiss, Turandot seems lost. Calaf comforts her and she admits that although she scorned her many suitors, she only feared Calaf. Now she feels vanquished by his fire and urges him to leave with his mystery. Calaf proclaims he has no more mystery and he tells her his name: he is Calaf, son of Timur. Turandot commands Calaf to appear with her before the people.
Before the Emperor, palace dignitaries and the crowd, Turandot announces that she knows the stranger’s name: it is Love! The crowd rejoices in praise of the Princess and Love.