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PUCCINI: Turandot

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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)


Puccini was the last in a long line of Italian opera composers who dominated the lyric stage for more than a century, and Turandot was his final opera. It was also the last Italian opera to go straight into the repertoire after its première and it remains popular, three-quarters of a century after it was first heard. The adoption of the aria ‘Nessun dorma!’ as a sort of football anthem has ensured that the work will retain its magic well into the 21st century.

As Prokofiev had done with The Love for Three Oranges, Puccini chose a Carlo Gozzi fairy tale as the basis for his opera. Busoni and Puccini’s own teacher Bazzini had already made attempts at Turandot but their versions had not caught on. Puccini was well versed in orientalism from his work on Madama Butterfly and he was anxious to have a major success after the rather equivocal responses that his three one-acters, Il Trittico, and his operetta La Rondine had met with.

Puccini planned his opera, which he must have sensed would be his farewell to the stage, on the grandest scale. For the first time, he wrote for a genuine dramatic soprano and he surrounded this fabulous personage with what was for him an unusually wide variety of other characters. His earlier operas were perhaps too dependent on the leading soprano and tenor, but in Turandot he not only expanded his range of characterizations but also gave a much larger rôle to the chorus. Puccini also made a special effort to bring his musical style more up to date, without sacrificing the lyricism which was his main asset. As usual with him, the work went fairly slowly. Working with two librettists, the critic Giuseppe Adami and the playwright Renato Simoni, who had suggested the subject in March 1920 after he had rejected their offer of a Dickens adaptation, Puccini gave them no end of problems before the opera took shape. By March 1924 everything was composed and scored except the final fifteen minutes or so, in which the icy Princess Turandot would finally yield to the foreign Prince Calaf in a climactic love duet. By then Puccini was mortally ill with throat cancer and he did not live to resolve this admittedly major problem.

When the composer died in November 1924, the conductor Arturo Toscanini took charge of seeing to the completion of the opera. Franco Alfano, an excellent composer — if no Puccini — was given Puccini’s sketches and asked to write the final duet. At the first performance in the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 25th April 1926, however, Toscanini stopped the performance after the death of the slave girl Liù, saying: ‘At this point the master laid down his pen.’ The complete score was heard at the second performance and was duly published, but only comparatively recently has it been discovered that Alfano’s ending was considerably altered, presumably by Toscanini.

The original cast included Rosa Raisa and Miguel Fleta, neither of whom recorded anything from their rôles, but among the fascinating supplementary material assembled here by Ward Marston is one of Liù’s arias sung by the creator of that rôle, Maria Zamboni. The three marvellous La Scala character singers who sing the scene of the masks (a composite of discs from two different labels), Giuseppe Nessi, Emilio Venturini and Aristide Baracchi, also took part in the première, although Baracchi had a different rôle on that occasion.

The history of complete opera recordings in the 78rpm era was mostly created by Columbia and His Master’s Voice, who in the late 1920s indulged in an almost suicidal rivalry, culminating in the ridiculous situation when both of them recorded Aida with La Scala forces, one after the other. Many of their recordings were made on such tight budgets that only one star singer could be engaged, and it was a miracle that so many of them turned out well. Cetra, which entered the fray in the late 1930s, worked on a different system, mainly choosing repertoire that the others had missed — Norma, Turandot, La forza del destino, L’Amico Fritz — and casting luxuriously with the best available soloists, usually stars of La Scala. Only in the case of Lucia di Lammermoor did they compete with an existing recording, and their casting of radio specialists helped to make their set the version of choice. For this pioneering recording of Turandot, the cast could hardly have been improved on, and it was a long time before anyone even attempted a replacement. Once again everyone involved, including the conductor, was experienced in radio work, and often in studio recording too, so the sessions went well. Many sets in more up-to-date sound have come and gone, but none of them has significantly improved on the Cetra version, which has never been long out of the catalogue. The original set had an odd empty side which was filled with another late Puccini composition, the Inno a Roma.

Although not rated as one of the top Italian opera conductors, Franco Ghione (1889-1964) was a ‘safe pair of hands’ and during a long international career worked with all the greatest singers. Born in Parma and trained there like Toscanini as a string player, he was the great man’s assistant at La Scala in 1922-23 and then became a regular conductor at Italy’s leading house. From 1937 he worked in America as well as Europe. Record collectors know him mainly for this set, Pagliacci with Gigli and La Traviata with Callas. For Turandot he no doubt benefited from Toscanini’s advice; at any rate he turns in a splendid performance.

Genevieve ‘Gina’ Cigna (1900-2001) was born in Angères near Paris, daughter of an army general of Italian origin, and after studying piano and composition at the Conservatoire married the tenor Maurice Sens, who encouraged her to sing. She emerged from vocal studies with Emma Calvé as a mezzo, made her début at La Scala on 23rd January 1927 as Freia in Das Rheingold, billed as ‘Genovieffa Sens’, and after further study with Rosina Storchio and Giannina Russ became the leading spinto soprano in Italy. During a major international career taking in Covent Garden and the Met, she sang Turandot alone some five hundred times — her main rival in the rôle was Eva Turner, who sings Turandot’s big scene in the Appendix. Cigna often appeared at the Rome Opera and was a favourite at La Scala until 1945. In 1947 her career was ended by a heart attack after a car accident but she lived to see her hundredth birthday celebrated by fans worldwide. She also recorded Norma for Cetra and her other great rôles included Aida and Gioconda. Among her pupils were Ghena Dimitrova and Lucia Valentini-Terrani.

Magda Olivero was born in 1910 in Saluzzo, and studied singing, piano and musicology at Turin Conservatory. She had a most unusual career. Her first seven major engagements, beginning in 1932, were for Italian Radio. The following year she made her operatic début in Gianni Schicchi, in her native city, and immediately started singing minor rôles at La Scala. Soon she was one of Italy’s leading lyric sopranos, noted for her acting ability, but after marrying in 1941 she retired. In 1946 she began to give occasional concerts and in 1951 she resumed her operatic appearances. The decade’s rest may have contributed to her artistic longevity, as she was still singing in concerts in the 1980s. Although she commanded a wide range of characterizations, she was especially admired in the title rôles of La Traviata, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Adriana Lecouvreur. She still takes a lively interest in opera and musical life in general.
Item number 8110193-94
Barcode 636943119327
Release date 01/11/2002
Category OPERA
Label Naxos Historical
Media type CD
Number of units 2
Artists Francesco Merli
Gina Cigna
Magda Olivero
Composers Giacomo Puccini
Conductors Franco Ghione
Orchestras RAI Chorus, Turin
RAI Symphony Orchestra
Producers Ward Marston
Disc: 1
1 Act I - Popolo di Pekino!
2 Act I - Gira la cote, gira!
3 Act I - Perche tarda la luna?
4 Act I - O giovinetto!
5 Act I - Figlio, che fai?
6 Act I - Silenzio!
7 Act I - Signore, ascolta!
8 Act I - Non piangere, Liu!
9 Act I - Ah! per l'ultima vola!
10 Act II - Scene 1 - Ola, Pang! Ola, Pong!
11 Act II - Scene 1 - Ho una casa nell'Honan
12 Act II - Scene 1 - O mondo, pieno di pazzi innamor
13 Act II - Scene 1 - Udite trombe! altro che pace!
14 Act II - Scene 2 - Un giuramente atroce mi costrin
15 Act II - Scene 2 - Popolo di Pekino!
16 Act II - Scene 2 - In questa reggia
17 Act II - Scene 2 - O principi, che a lunghe carova
18 Act II - Scene 2 - Straniero, ascolta!
19 Act II - Scene 2 - Gelo che ti da foco...
20 Act II - Scene 2 - Figlio del cielo!
21 Act II - Scene 2 - Tre enigmi m'hai proposto!
Disc: 2
1 Act III - Scene 1 - Cosi comanda Turandot
2 Act III - Scene 1 - Nessun dorma!
3 Act III - Scene 1 - Tu che guardi le stelle
4 Act III - Scene 1 - Principessa divina!
5 Act III - Scene 1 - Tanto amore segreto
6 Act III - Scene 1 - Tu che di gel sei cinta
7 Act III - Scene 1 - Liu! Liu! sorgi! sorgi!
8 Act III - Scene 1 - Principessa di morte!
9 Act III - Scene 1 - O mio fior mattutino
10 Act III - Scene 2 - Diecimila anni al nostro Imper
11 Appendix - Act I - Signore, ascolta!
12 Appendix - Act I - Non piangere, Liu!
13 Appendix - Act II - Scene 1 - Ola, Pang! Ola, Pong
14 Appendix - Act II - Scene 1 - Ho una casa nell'Hon
15 Appendix - Act II - Scene 1 - O mondo, pieno di pa
16 Appendix - Act II - Scene 1 - Gravi, Enormi, Vener
17 Appendix - Act II - Scene 2 - In questa reggia...
18 Appendix - Act III - Scene 1 - Nessun dorma!
19 Appendix - Act III - Scene 1 - Tanto amore segreto
20 Appendix - Act III - Scene 1 - Tu che di gel sei c
21 Appendix - Act III - Scene 2 - Diecimila anni al n
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