Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Case of Turandot

Last night I saw another performance of Turandot (my fourth one since I started going to the MET in 2005), but this one was special.  The opera starts with a Mandarin announcing the law of the land, and tonight this Mandarin was performed by Ryan Speedo Green.  The role is his debut on the MET stage, and I did not have to wait long to be dazzled by his voice and stage presence.

The Mandarin's costume is pretty impressive, and Ryan was pretty unrecognizable, but his wonderful voice gave him away.  This is a great start to a wonderful career at the Met Opera, and the critics seemed to agree.

The Associated Press wrote:
"Debuting in the small role of the Mandarin, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green impressed with his strong delivery and commanding stage presence."

The NY Post had the following to say:
"In the cameo part of the Mandarin, Ryan Speedo Green made a promising debut. The youthful bass-baritone — who was less than a year old when this production premiered in 1987 — boasted a full, smoky voice and towering stage presence."

Ryan actually made his debut on stage last Wednesday, but I was unable to get tickets for that performance, so I settled for his second appearance on the MET stage.  However, as I waited in line to buy tickets for Turandot last week, my mind was occupied by an age-old question: how do I pronounce Turandot? I got around the problem by asking for tickets to "tomorrow night's" performance, but I would really like to know the answer to this question.

After some digging I came to the realization there are two camps when it comes to this problem; there's Turandot (as in Tu-ran-do...dough) and then there is Turandot (as in I fall into the first category, and maybe my French background has something to do with just never pronounces the t. This explanation does not make sense of course, since Puccini was Italian and Turandot is an Italian opera; and the Italian language does pronounce the t.  Even more so, Turandot is actually a Persian word meaning "The Daughter of Turan"; Turan being a region in Central Asia that used to be part of the Persian Empire.  The original story of Turandot can be traced back to a Persian book of stories called "The Book of One Thousand and One Days."  It is unknown when they were written, but they first came to the west in the 18th Century.

If Turandot is indeed still considered a Persian word, the t should be pronounced.  In the Persian language, the last consonants of a word are pronounced.  However, rumor has it Puccini started calling his new opera Turando (silent t).  Toscanini, the original conductor of the work, is also said to have pronounced it this way.  There are several eye witnesses that attest to this, including Rosa Raisa, who was the very first Turandot, and Dame Eva Turner, who was present at the first performance of the opera and later became a well-known soprano herself.

Listening to the actual performance gives an indication of how the name should be pronounced.  Pronouncing the t or not is just as important for the singers as it does make a difference in their performance.  The first recorded version of the opera was released in 1938, just twelve years after its premiere.  In this version the t was left out; at that time the clear wishes of Puccini himself still fresh in the minds of everyone involved.  Many singers at the MET never pronounced the t when performing this opera before the sixties.

For some unknown reason, however, some singers started pronouncing the t in their performances in the second half of the twentieth century.  The 'blame' for this seems to be put on Erich Leinsdorf.  He made a 1960 recording of this opera in which he clearly pronounced the t.  At that point, this became tradition.  This is an interesting choice, because many singers find it easier to sing the name when the final t is missing.  Everything just seems to flow better when you leave it out.

Someone told me there might even be a third way this opera can be pronounced: Turandotte.  So far I have not found any evidence of this, but rumor has it Puccini wrote a poem about Turandotte, writing it this way so he could make it rime with other Italian words.  Whichever way one says it, though, this remains one of the most beautiful operas there is.  The Met's current production by Franco Zeffirelli is a visual masterpiece that will leave you awe-struck, kind of like saying Turandooooo......

The naming of Turandot is a discussion which can go on into infinity.  There are many opera lovers who take this very serious and one can debate this issue for days without ever reaching a conclusion.  The matter of the fact is, there is no right or wrong answer here.  How do you feel about this?  What camp do you belong to?  Take our Facebook poll and let us known how you pronounce Turandot.

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