Sunday, June 12 at 12 p.m. on PBS
(Check your local listings)
Puccini's final opera, "Turandot," which is one of the most spectacular productions in the Met repertory, comes to THIRTEEN'S Great Performances at the Met Sunday, June 12 at 12 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera Sunday, June 26 at 12:30 p.m.)
Swedish dramatic soprano Nina Stemme sings her first Met performances of the demanding title role of Puccini's imperious Chinese princess, with Anita Hartig in her company role debut as the angelic slave girl Liù. Marco Berti sings Calàf, the suitor who risks his head for Turandot's hand, and Alexander Tsymbalyuk sings Timur. Paolo Carignani conducts Franco Zeffirelli's visually stunning 1987 production.
The opera, which premiered at La Scala, Milan in 1926, is an epic fairy tale set in a China of legend. Featuring a most unusual score with an astounding and innovative use of chorus and orchestra, it is still recognizably Puccini, bursting with instantly appealing melody. The unenviable task of completing the opera's final scene upon Puccini's sudden death was left to the composer Franco Alfano. Conductor Arturo Toscanini oversaw Alfano's contribution and led the world premiere.
The story has its roots in various folk tales about a princess who tests the worthiness of her suitors by posing a series of riddles and who has those who answer incorrectly killed. The characters of Ping, Pang, and Pong are descended from the Italian tradition of commedia dell'arte that influenced much of the opera and drama of the 20th century. Toscanini oversaw Alfano's contribution and led the world premiere. The opening night performance omitted the Alfano finale, with Toscanini putting down his baton where Puccini had abandoned the score when he died.
The works of Alfano are rarely performed today, though Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) was seen at the Met in 2005. The librettists for Turandot were the playwright and journalist Giuseppe Adami, who had previously worked with Puccini on Il Tabarro and La Rondine, and Renato Simoni, who had written librettos for other composers. The source of the story was the play "Turandot" by the 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi who wrote satirical fantasies and later tragedies for the Venetian stage at a time of intense debate about the relative merits of realism and fantasy in dramatic art.
The Met gave the United States premiere of Turandot in 1926, shortly after the Milan premiere. Tullio Serafin conducted a cast featuring one of Puccini's favorite sopranos in the title role, Maria Jeritza, paired with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi as Cala?f Soprano Renée Fleming hosts the broadcast.