I’m just back from Opera at the Park, San Francisco’s annual “watch opera in a baseball park while eating popcorn” event. This year’s opera was Turandot (final “t” sounded) by Giacomo Puccini.
I know it’s easy to mock the plots of operas, which is good because it’s getting late and I’ve got to work tomorrow. So let’s play ball.
Once upon a time …
There was a princess who did not want to get married and live happily ever after. If Turandot had run a personal ad, it would have read something like this:
Single Asian female. Young, virgin, beautiful, only child of the Emperor of China. Not seeking anyone. Answer this ad and I’ll have your head cut off. Likes: Sizzling Rice Beef, having heads cut off. Dislikes: men.
But she is beautiful and her husband will inherit China, so Peking is littered with heads in various stages of decay.
He’s the prince of Tartary. He’s just passing through town, but by the laws of opera he has to recognize a long-lost person from his past, so he looks around and spots his blind old father, Timur, accompanied by a slave-girl, Liù, wearing shabby clothes and an accent over her “u.”
They’ve been having a rotten time ever since Timur got kicked out of his kingdom. Asked why she’s stuck with the old man, Liù says it’s because Calaf once smiled at her. Oh, Liù. You should’ve known better with a boy like him.
Turandot arrives to preside over the day’s beheading. Calaf turns his gaze from the gentle and adoring Liù, looks at the cold-blooded killer with the crown, and thinks, “That’s the girl for me.” Calaf has Tartary sauce for brains.
Turandot gives Calaf her usual test: three riddles. He nails them. She freaks because now he gets to nail her. He says, okay, if you can guess my name before dawn, then you can kill me. What a promising start to a relationship.
Cue the BBC Orchestra
The princess orders everyone in Peking to stay up all night because being sleep-deprived will enable them to figure out the new guy’s name. No, it doesn’t make sense, but it allowed Puccini to write “Nessun dorma” so the BBC could use it for their coverage of the 1990 World Cup. A man of great foresight, Puccini.
Worried that she’s coming over as a softie, Turandot adds that if she doesn’t learn the prince’s name before dawn, she’ll have everyone in Peking killed. Well, at least they won’t have to buy any wedding presents.
Someone remembers that the prince was seen talking to a blind old man and a slave girl with an accent over her “u.” They are brought back onstage, where Liù insists that only she knows the name and she’s not telling. She gets tortured. Calaf lets it happen. Liù grabs a knife and kills herself.
The sun rises. Calaf has won. What a hero! Liù’s body is carried offstage by hunky bare-chested men in tight shorts. Poor old Timur stumbles off blindly in their wake.
Calaf forgets all about them and kisses Turandot. She decides she loves him. Well, good. They deserve each other.
Turandot tells the Emperor that she knows the prince’s name. “It is love,” she says, in defiance of the program notes that insist it’s Calaf. The crowd cheers. Maybe now someone can clear away all those moldy heads.
Enter a lot of adjectives
The beautiful music was sung beautifully. The gorgeous costumes were by Ian Falconer; the equally gorgeous sets were by David Hockney. As I heard someone in the audience say, “He’s good! He should be an artist!” The conductor, adorable Nicola Luisotti, won everyone’s hearts when the curtain didn’t go up. AT&T Park is the world’s most scenic baseball venue. San Francisco Opera does a wonderful job with Opera at the Park and opera in general.
I didn’t try the popcorn.
Cue Sir Macca
Here is a song about Turandot. Feel free to sing it to the tune of “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney.
I have to say I think you’ve lost the plot,
All these beheadings are so over-wrought!
Oh you’re a hard one, Turandot.
Why don’t you
Just say you’ve got a headache or the flu?
Has no one told you that’s what women do
When we don’t feel up to a screw?
Calaf, why are you such an unremitting clot?
Liù will die for you, but you long for Turandot,
And not for
Liù, ma belle,
I’m sorry that you’re under Calaf’s spell.
Does “martyr complex” ring the faintest bell?
Oh Liù, adieu, it’s your death knell.
Now the wooing scene and the kiss that melts the maid.
Calaf gets the girl, and the girl will now get laid,
All thanks to
You wrote a lot of lovely operas, bro,
But most of them are not a jolly show.
Hope heaven’s happier, Giacomo.