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Turandot is Puccini's last opera. He died while composing the third act, leaving the work unfinished.
The plot is based on an ancient Persian legend, and the setting that of imperial Peking. Turandot is the daughter of the emperor. He wants her to marry but she resists, so the emperor agrees to her terms: any suitor who wishes to marry her must answer three riddles. If he cannot, he will be executed.
As if the story is not dramatic enough, there is the reimagining of ancient China, the evocation of place through pentatonic elements and unusual instrumentation, the costuming, and demanding roles for the performers.
For all that, some parts are silly. For example, ministers named Ping, Pang, and Pong. And the violence and drama feels relentless after a point. Still, other parts are transcendent, most famously, the "Nessun dorma."
The author explains the story, staging, and production very well. David Timson's narration is, as always, simply perfect. For that, five stars.
But I won't be going to a production or purchasing a recording of Turandot. Puccini wrote so much that puts this opera in the shade.
That's just my opinion. Decide for yourself. That is one of the many benefits of the "Opera Explained" series. If you're unfamiliar with an opera, as I was with Turandot, listen and see what you think. You might hate it, or you might become a devoted fan. Either way, it's time well-spent if you love classical music.
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