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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Puccini's Turandot: Which Ending?

It's part of operatic lore that Puccini never lived to complete the end of Turandot, and the way that the premiere performance conducted by Maestro Toscanini halted after the death of Liu.  The luckless task of completing the 30 pages of notation that Puccini left was given to Franco Alfano, one of his contemporaries, and as operatic legend has it, Toscanini hated what had been written and was quoted as saying "You spit in the face of Puccini!".    

As a result, the complete Alfano ending is very rarely, if ever performed and instead we get a heavily edited versio of Alfano's ending by Toscanini himself.  There have been three other more recent attempts at interpreting Puccini's notes, by American Janet Maguire in 1988 which remains unperformed, by Luciano Berio in 2001 conducted by Gergiev at Salzburg, and new one by Hao Weiya performed in China in 2008 to mixed reviews.




I had the fortune of picking up a copy of what seems to be the only commercially available recording of Alfano I, recorded by Josephine Barstow and Lando Bartolini under John Mauceri and I must say I find it greatly under appreciated and cannot understand why it is not performed today.  While there a few harmonically strange moments, it is thrilling and gives greater insight into the psychology of the central protagonists. 




I have posted here both versions from Turandot's first kiss to the finale for you to decide, but with both Turandot and Calaf soaring over the orchestra in Alfano I, not to mention the more elaborate trumpet fanfares, I find it difficult to understand why the pale by comparison Alfano II is still the preferred ending.  One wonders however, what Riccardo Zandonai who was Puccini's recommended composer to complete it, would have done.  If his Francesca da Rimini is anything to go by, it would have been incredible, but of course this is operatic "what could have been" speculation.




The Berio finale has gained a lot of attention but it doesn't seem to have taken a permanent hold on the imagination of the operatic-going public.  It is easy to understand why, while it's in keeping with Puccini's sketches, his apparent mention that the finale should be a la Tristan, to me it dwindles into dissonant nothing at the finale rather than transcending it's heroine and hero from a sexual into spiritual love.


Ultimately it is up to personal preference, but I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity finally, to hear the Alfano I in it's entirety.  Which do you prefer?

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