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Music and Libretto
Last Duet and finale completed
Based on Friedrich von Schiller's
Place: Peking, city of the Celestial Empire, China
Time: Legendary times
Before the walls of the Imperial Palace in Peking
A mandarin proclaims the law that Princess Turandot will marry the suitor of royal blood who can solve her three riddles. Those who fail the test will be executed. So far, all of Turandot's would-be lovers have failed. The Prince of Persia is the latest victim scheduled to be beheaded. A crowd has gathered and begins a gruesome jubilation calling for the executioner.
Timur, the aged and blind king of the Tartars, is among the crowd, accompanied by his faithful slave girl, Liu. Timur falls to the ground in the melee. Liu calls for help and is aided by an unknown young prince. As he helps Timur to his feet, Calaf recognizes the old man as his father, from whom he had been separated during a disastrous battle in which Timur had lost his kingdom. As they exchange stories, Timur describes Liu's care and affection and Calaf asks her why she has voluntarily shared such suffering. Liu answers, "It is because one day, in the palace, you smiled at me."
As the moon rises, the hour for the execution has come. A procession enters as the Prince of Persia approaches his death. While the crowd begs Turandot for mercy for her young victim, Calaf curses Turandot for her heartlessness. The princess appears, a vision of both beauty and cruelty. She gestures to the executioner to proceed.
Calaf is overwhelmed by Turandot's beauty and decides to try his luck at solving her riddles. Before he is able to strike the gong and signal his readiness, Ping, Pang, and Pong (the ministers of the Imperial household) bar his way. They point out that Turandot is, after all, a woman like any other. The voices of those who died for love of Turandot are heard tormenting Calaf. However, neither the sight of the executioner returning with the Prince of Persia's head, nor Liu's entreaties can dissuade Calaf. With three great beats of the gong, Calaf signals his challenge and calls for Turandot. As the crowd and ministers mock Calaf, Timur and Liu cling to each other in despair.
Scene 1 A pavilion on the Palace grounds, the next day
Ping, Pang, and Pong meet to lament the state of China since Turandot's reign began. They grow nostalgic for their homes in distant villages as well as for some of the Princes who have tried their luck with Turandot's riddles. The ministers bid farewell to the glory of China and envision how happy their lives would be if Turandot would only find love. Trumpets sound to bring the challenge of Calaf.
Scene 2 A square before the Palace
The court enters, led by wise men who carry scrolls containing the answers to Turandot's riddles. High up on an ivory throne sits the Emperor Altoum, who implores Calaf to give up, but to no avail. Turandot appears and tells the story of her ancestress Lo-u-ling, who was ravished and murdered by a conquering warlord, and in whose memory she has sworn to avenge on any man foolhardy enough to woo her. She puts forth the three riddles, all of which Calaf answers correctly - "Hope," "Blood," and "Turandot." The princess begs her father to declare the result void but Altoum stands by his word; Turandot must marry the Prince. However, Calaf says that he does not want to compel Turandot to love him and if she can find out his name by daybreak, she will not have to marry him and he will die like the other princes.
Scene 1 In the gardens of the Imperial palace, that night
Heralds announce that, by order of the Princess, none shall sleep on pain of death until the Prince's name is revealed. Calaf appears and sings the famous "Nessun dorma." Ping, Pang, and Pong try to lure Calaf with offers of beautiful girls, riches, glory, and a means of escape if he will reveal his identity, but Calaf remains firm.
Timur and Liu are dragged in and tortured to reveal the Prince's identity. Turandot arrives and Liu steps forward, claiming that she alone knows the Prince's name. Liu explains that love has given her the strength to resist. However when she feels herself weakening, she snatches a dagger from one of the guards and kills herself. The crowd is horrified and as they carry her corpse away, Timur curses the cruelty that provoked this innocent death.
Calaf reproaches Turandot for her cruelty but then tells her that love can make her human. Calaf kisses her and Turandot is overwhelmed. She is overcome with shame and confesses she loves the Prince, but begs him to go away. The Prince reveals his name to her, placing his life in her hands.
Scene 2 Before the Imperial palace, immediately following
As dawn breaks, the court and crowd assemble to hear Turandot's announcement. She says that she knows the stranger's name - it is Love! She and Calaf embrace and the crowd rejoices with the lovers, singing a hymn to eternal love.
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