Puccini's unfinished 'Turandot' debuts in Japan with tragic ending

EFE Ingles |

By Nora Olivé

Tokyo, (EFE).- A new rendition of "Turandot," the unfinished opera classic by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, premiered on Friday in Japan's capital with an appropriately tragic ending.

Puccini (1858-1924) died before completing his final opus, though his compatriot Franco Alfano furnished it with his own conclusion two years after the death of the renowned author of all-time greats "La bohème," "Tosca" and "Madame Butterfly."

This new version discards Alfano's ending in favor of one that feels more in sync with Puccini's likely intentions.

"It seemed logical to us that we couldn't go for a happy ending, given the characters' idiosyncrasies and the situation they are going through," Spanish director Àlex Ollé told EFE in an interview in Tokyo ahead of the premiere.

The devastating trauma that turns the life of the titular princess upside down is the centerpiece of Olle's production, whose carefully staged mise-en-scène builds up to a narrative denouement that opts for the most dreadful out of all possible endings.

"It could have been an option for Puccini," Ollé said.

The opera's plot, which takes place in the imperial Peking of legendary times, is fundamentally dramatic: it involves a distressed princess who refuses marriage because her ancestor, Princess Lo-u-Ling, was raped and murdered by a foreign prince.

"I am thinking about portraying that this fact nursed her hatred of men," Ollé wrote in an essay published on the website of Tokyo's New National Theater, which will host one of the performances.

Turandot claims her forebear's spirit lives within her and seeks revenge against men, which is why she forces all prospective suitors to answer three riddles, with failure being punished by beheading.

Puccini's concept for what the opera's last 20 minutes should be will forever remain an enigma, both in terms of music and narrative.

Alfano's traditional version, though, ends with the triumph of romance between the main character and Calaf, a prince who risks his head to woo Turandot, with whom he fell in love at first sight.

"Turandot is usually portrayed as a story with a happy ending," Ollé said. "When staging or looking back to Puccini's operas up to Turandot though, I think there is no way it can end happily. Puccini did not like happy endings."

That is why he opted for a tragic resolution, in which Turandot refuses Calaf's love and commits suicide.

This rendering of Puccini's classic will play at four theaters in Japan: the famous Bunka Kaikan concert hall, where it debuted on Friday and is set to run until Sunday, the NNT () , the Biwako Hall near Kyoto () and the Sapporo Cultural Arts Theater in the capital of the northern island of Hokkaido () .

The music is expertly performed by the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra, conducted by Japanese maestro Kazushi Ono.

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