Teacher Resources for Turandot

Welcome to Lyric Unlimited’s Teachers Resources for Turandot. This is your all-access pass to the world of opera and your insider’s guide to Lyric’s incredible performances. Scroll down to access the following resources to help you prepare your students for your trip to Lyric:

It is our sincere hope you enjoy the performance, and we look forward to seeing you and your students at the opera!

Opera Prep Class - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Opera Prep ClassCost: $175 per 45-minute presentation

Request a Lyric teaching artist to visit your classroom and engage your students with the important themes, musical highlights, and production elements of the opera.

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Teacher Guide

Information and activities to help you prepare students for the performance.

Teacher Guide - Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Opera Overview

This GoogleSlides presentation covers essential information your students need to know about the opera. For best results, please view the Opera Overview full screen.

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Musical Highlights

The Pentatonic Scale

Composers use different types of musical scales to evoke emotions or transport the listener to a specific time and place. For example, we often associate major scales with happy emotions and minor scales with sadness or anger.

The pentatonic scale, a scale made up of only five notes, is found in music from all around the world. It is commonly used in the folk melodies of many Asian cultures. Puccini uses the pentatonic scale throughout Turandot to create Chinese-sounding melodies. He also uses some actual Chinese folk songs.

You can easily play pentatonic scales and melodies on a piano by playing only on the black keys.

Example: a pentatonic scale  

Example: the Chinese folk song “Mo-Li-Hua” (Jasmine Flower)

Act 1: “Ah! Per L'ultima Volta” (Ah, for the last time!)
English Translation
Sung by Calàf, Timur, Liù, Ping, Pong, Pang, Chorus
This excerpt is an ensemble performance that grows from a quartet to a sextet and finally features the full chorus. Calàf is in love with Turandot, and he is confident that he can win her hand in marriage. The people around him protest. They have seen many princes attempt to win Turandot, and they have seen all the princes die. Regardless, Calàf hits the gong which signals that he will face Turandot’s test.

Things to listen for:

Act 2: Scene 1 “Olà, Pang! Olà, Pong!” (Hello, Pang! Hello, Pong!)
English Translation
Sung by Ping, Pong, and Pang

Ping, Pong, and Pang run Princess Turandot’s palace. Since Calàf is planning to answer Turandot’s riddles, they have to prepare for the best, which would be a marriage feast, and also the worst, a funeral.

Things to listen for:

Act 2: Scene 2 “In questa reggia” (In this palace)
English Translation
Sung by Turandot

This is one of Turandot’s tender moments. Up until now, we have seen her as a ruthless “ice princess.” This is the first time she sings in the opera. She explains that she is protective of herself out of honor and respect to her ancestor, Princess Lo-u-Ling. Lo-u-Ling was captured by a prince and killed. Her kingdom was destroyed. Turandot feels a strong connection to her ancestor, and that is why she does not trust the advances of any prince.

Things to listen for:

Act 3: “Nessun dorma” (No one must sleep)
English Translation
Sung by Calàf

This is one of the most famous arias in opera. You might recognize it from movies or TV.

Calàf has just answered the riddles correctly, but Turandot is not satisfied. Calàf proposes a wager of his own. If Turandot can learn his name, he will face execution, but if she doesn’t, they will be married. Turandot has forbidden sleeping so that all citizens can help her find the name! Calàf sings this aria in response to her order. He is confident that he will win, despite the possibility of death.

Things to listen for:

Act 3: “Tu, che di gel sei cinta” (You, who are encased in ice)
English Translation
Sung by Liù

Turandot discovers that Liù knows the name of the unknown prince. Out of love for Calàf, she will not disclose it. She would rather die than cause the death of the man she has always loved. The aria ends with Liù taking a dagger from a guard and ending her life.

Things to listen for:

Nilsson, Corelli, Scotto, Giaiotti; Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera di Roma, cond. Molinari-Pradelli. (EMI)

Music from Turandot provided through generous arrangement with Warner Classics, Official Education and Promotion Music Provider for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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Historical and Cultural Timeline

Learn more about this opera and events in the world at the time it was written.


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Composer and Librettist Biographies

Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Giacomo Puccinib. Lucca, Toscana, December 22, 1858; d. Brussels, Belgium, November 29, 1924

Giacomo Puccini was born in the Tuscan town of Lucca, where his family had a long musical history. He was a fifth-generation composer. After the death of his father, Giacomo was sent, at the age of five, to study with his uncle, Fortunato Magi, an accomplished organist and teacher. It soon became clear that the young musician was talented, and equally clear that opera was his calling. In 1880, Giacomo entered the Milan Conservatory. In 1882, he produced his first opera, Le villi, for a competition sponsored by the Italian music publisher Sonzogno. Unfortunately, he did not win.

Le villi was not a complete loss for Puccini, though. Giulio Ricordi, the internationally famous head of Sonzogno’s major competitor, liked it. In 1884, Ricordi purchased the copyright to Le villi and commissioned a new work from Puccini. The new commission, Edgar, was a disaster, but with Le villi and Edgar done, Puccini had completed his apprenticeship. Of the ten remaining operas he would compose in his lifetime, four would be among the most performed operas of all time—La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot. Five would earn established places in the repertoire—Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West, Gianni Schicchi, Il tabarro, and Suor Angelica; while only one, La rondine, would be largely ignored.

Around 1884, Puccini began an affair with Elvira Gemignani, the wife of a Lucchese merchant. She would bear Puccini a son in 1886, but they would not be free to marry until after the death of her husband in 1904.

On a trip to attend a performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Bayreuth, Puccini was inspired to write a new opera. When Manon Lescaut premiered in 1893, it was a huge success. Author, playwright, and critic George Bernard Shaw declared Puccini the heir to Giuseppe Verdi. A string of major works followed: La bohème in 1896, Tosca in 1900, and Madama Butterfly in 1904.

A car accident in 1903 left Puccini wheelchair-bound for months, and shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with diabetes. His librettist Giacosa died in 1906 at the age of 58. In 1909, Puccini's maid committed suicide after Elvira accused her of having an affair with the composer. Puccini’s renown made this an international news story.

After the premiere of La fanciulla del West in 1910, it would be seven years before the composer completed another opera. The next composition was La rondine, Puccini’s only operetta. Il trittico, a triple-bill of Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi, followed in 1918, but the composer was unable to attend the New York premiere.

Shortly thereafter, Puccini began work on his final opera, Turandot. Puccini wanted to strike out in a new direction. Based on a play by 18th-century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi, Turandot was far removed from the contemporary realism of Tosca. Set in China “in the time of fables,” it was explicitly cast as a fairy tale with a prince, princess, and a fantastic background of tyranny and torture. Puccini would find his heroine—the ice princess Turandot—a difficult creature to make sympathetic. The problem would be exacerbated by his invention of the extremely sympathetic slave girl Liù, perhaps an oblique reference to the Puccini’s young maid who had committed suicide a decade earlier.

Puccini grappled with these problems while suffering from the throat cancer that would eventually kill him. He did not live to finish his Chinese fable. Two years after his death, Turandot—completed by the composer Franco Alfano—would premiere under the baton of Puccini’s friend, the conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Turandot Librettists

Pictured from Top to Bottom: 

Giuseppe Adami
b. Verona, February 4, 1878
d. Milan, October 12, 1946

Renato Simoni

b. Verona, September 5, 1875
d. Milan, July 5, 1952

Puccini’s relationship with his librettists was famously difficult—usually for the librettists. The composer took a deep interest in his texts, and if something did not sound right to him, he demanded changes. He went so far as to change librettists six times before finishing his Manon Lescaut.

In 1906, Puccini turned to several different librettists, including, for his 1917 La rondine, the playwright and journalist Giuseppe Adami. Adami had done work for Puccini’s publishing house, Ricordi, and Puccini chose him—along with Renato Simoni—to set his final opera, Turandot.

A native of Verona, Adami had made a successful career as a comic playwright while also working as a publicist, biographer, and critic. It would be Adami who, after Puccini’s death, would become one of his first biographers. Simoni, even more than Adami, was primarily a journalist. Born in Verona in 1875, he worked as a drama critic in Verona and Milan before becoming editor of the Corriere della sera in 1903. Verona was part of the politically powerful Venetian Republic for much of its history, and both Adami and Simoni were intimately familiar with the history of Venetian theater and literature. Both men had published plays in Venetian dialect, so it was not surprising when Simoni, an expert on the 18th-century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi, suggested that Gozzi’s outlandish plays might form the ideal basis for a new opera.

But this was a very different direction from that taken by the composer of Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and La bohème. Where other writers favored “everyday people,” Gozzi sought to revitalize the Italian commedia dell’arte, or improvised comedy. His comedies featured fantastical situations with gods and noblemen. It was through Simoni’s suggestion, and his and Adami’s subsequent work on the libretto of Turandot, that Puccini was able to strike out in a new direction.

Adapted from biographies originally written by Nicholas Ivor Martin

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Behind the Scenes

A series of articles on the production, rehearsal, and performance process that happens behind the scenes at Lyric.

Sets and Props

Tech Week

The Rehearsal Process

Costumes at Lyric

Running the Show
History of the Lyric Opera House

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