The National Theatre’s first opera premiere of the new decade is Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, which returns to the Historical Building of the National Theater in Prague after more than 40 years. The premieres are January 23 and 25, and further performances are scheduled through June.
The three-act opera Turandot, completed in 1926 after Puccini’s death by Franco Alfano, is based on a play by Carl Gozzi, which in turn took its inspiration from the 12th century Persian poet Nizami. The libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni sets the story in medieval Beijing.
Nizami wrote an epic seven-poem cycle, with with each poem corresponding to a day of the week. This tale was for Tuesday.
The opera is considered the last of its kind, and the end of the great Italian romantic tradition, though it did incorporate modern 20th century influences and traditional Chinese musical motifs.
The basic plot is the stuff of fairytales, with Prince Calaf having to solve three riddles to win the hand of Princess Turnadot. She still refuses, even though he solves them, and then the prince tells her he will relent if she guesses his true name.
“The romantic tale of love and hate is surrounded by mysterious motifs of ice, fire, moon and sun. …An extraordinary audience experience is crowned by Puccini’s masterful musical language, adorned with many ‘eccentric’ elements — from oriental paraphrases to the brutal sound of the orchestra and dissonant harmony to wildly complicated choral and ensemble scenes,” the National Theatre stated.
Michal Lehotský and Renzo Zulian will perform the role of Prince Kalaf, whose love will eventually overwhelm the Princess’s coldness.
For this new production, costumes are by Boris Hanečka, the personal fashion designer of Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová and Slovak celebrities.
Set designs are by Zuzana Gilhuus, a Slovak artist who currently lives in Norway. She studied in Paris. Dresden and Berlin. Many of her previous productions such as Alcina and Lucrezia Borgia played to critical acclaim and received awards or nominations.
The musical staging is by conductor Jaroslav Kyzlinek, the musical director of the National Theatre opera since September 2016. He had worked previously in Brno, Bratislava, Copenhagen, and Tokyo.
Princess Turandot will be played on different nights by Anda-Louis Bogza, Iveta Jiříková and Eliška Weissová. Michal Lehotský and Sergey Polyakov will perform the role of Prince Kalaf. Other main roles are performed by Jiří Sulženko, Alžběta Poláčková, or František Zahradníček.
The first performance of Turandot, without the additions by Alfano, was conducted by Arturo Toscanini at La Scala in Milan. The full version was staged the following day. It became a hit, and now ranks at the 17th most performed opera worldwide. A ban on performing it in China was lifted in 1990.