Last month I headed to my favourite building in London, the 18th century, Grade I-listed Royal Opera House to see Puccini's final opera: the dark, lively Turandot.  Romanian director Andrei Serban made his Royal Opera debut in 1984 with this production, and this is the 16th time it's returned to the Covent Garden stage.

Turandot, Royal Opera House - London lifestyle & culture blog

The dark story tells the tale of the cold-hearted Princess Turandot (played by American soprano Christine Goerke) who challenges her suitors with three riddles.  If they answer them correctly, they win her hand in marriage, if they don't, they die.  No one has ever succeeded.  Enter the arrogant Prince Calaf (played by Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko), who solves the riddles - much to Turandot's despair - but takes pity and offers her a way out: if she discovers his name before dawn, she can execute him; if she doesn't, she's his.  Calaf's quite the risk-taker.

Giacomo Puccini started working on this three act opera - set to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni - in 1920, just after the First World War and the dark mood of the time is portrayed in the dramatic story.  Puccini died before finishing the final act, which was completed by Franco Alfano in 1926 when it debuted at La Scala, Milan.  The music is spectacular, featuring arguably the most famous aria ever written, Nessun Dorma, traditional oriental folk melodies like the beautiful Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) - which Puccini first heard on a music box a friend brought back from China - and the brilliantly loud orchestra, with Chinese gongs and tubular bells, accompanied by a huge on-stage choir.  British choreographer Kate Flatt was inspired by t'ai chi and karate which, along with Sally Jacob's colourful sets, traditional masks and raw silk Chinese costumes, transports you to ancient Peking.  It's a powerful production, and one which I hope to see again soon.

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