February 28, 2017

Turandot: when a composer's opera echoes his personal issues

I probably should have majored in Psych. When I lecture about opera, I always seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the ways in which music drama manifests human psychology. One such aspect is the way in which issues of a composer's personal life can be reflected, consciously or otherwise, in the operas he creates.
Giacomo Puccini - he had issues!

Take Verdi as an example. As a young married man with two infant children, he suffered an unimaginable tragedy. Within a couple of years, he lost his entire family to encephalitis, leaving him with a crushing case of survivor's guilt. Not coincidentally, many of his greatest operas (Rigoletto, Trovatore, Aida, and several others) deal with parents who directly or indirectly cause the death of their children.

Puccini's Turandot provides two fascinating examples of this phenomenon. The first involves the composer's distaste for big cities; the other involves a scandalous episode in his marriage.

For a man whose career called on him to make frequent trips to Milan, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London and New York, it's ironic that Puccini was only at peace at his villa in Torre del Lago, a coastal village in Northern Italy. There, at least until 1921, when the installation of a factory ruined the environment for him, he could indulge his passion for bird-hunting.

Puccini's letters are rife with complaints about city life. Some examples:

"In a few days I shall be back home - and I can hardly wait: I am so sick of Paris..."
"How it bores me to stay here (in Paris) so long! I should like to be at Torre or Chiatri, in solitude and peace."

"The thought of going to (New York) is getting on my nerves. Why did I ever accept? How glad I'd feel to be back in Torre del Lago with my free life and the fresh air!"

Peruse his letters, and such comments flow in a continual stream of wistful resignation.

So in this context, I'm especially interested in the first scene of Act 2 in Turandot, the twelve minutes given over to the three ministers Ping, Pang and Pong as they gossip and ruminate prior to the scene of the three riddles. After a brief conference ironing out the logistics of the Unknown Prince's impending trial, they pause for a trio of infinitely nostalgic, utterly beautiful music beginning with Ping's "Ho una casa nell'Honan". (Listen to it here.) Here's the English text:

I have a little house in Honan with a little blue lake all surrounded with bamboo. And here I am, wasting my life, wearing out my brain over sacred books, when I could go back there to my little blue lake.

I have forests near Tsiang of which none are lovelier, but their shade is not for me.

I have a garden near Kiu that I left to come here, that I'll never see again.

Can there be any doubt that the longing in the music of this trio is Puccini's own? Remember: at one point the libretto had omitted the ministers, a version of whom is found in Carlo Gozzi's play (the basis for the opera); Puccini suggested inserting them. They are his personal touch and, in this scene, they are speaking directly for him. It's the composer sharing his greatest desire to us, his audience.

The slave girl Liù was another invention of Puccini's, this time with no parallel in earlier versions of the fable. (His motivation for doing so will be the topic for a future post...) Liù claims to be the only person in Peking to know the name of the prince, information Turandot is desperate to obtain to escape having to marry him. As the prince is restrained, the hard-hearted "princess of ice" has her guards try to beat the name out of the slave, but Liù's lips are sealed to protect the man she loves. It's important for our purpose here to remember that the prince does not return her love; he's obsessed with Turandot. At last, to escape the torment lest she lose her will, the slave girl grabs a weapon and kills herself.

Anyone who has read Puccini's biography should recognize this scene as eerily similar to events in Puccini's life in 1909.

Puccini's married his wife Elvira because he had gotten her pregnant. She was married to another man at the time, but she and the composer bided their time until her husband's death enabled Puccini to "do the right thing" and give their son Antonio a respectable name.

Elvira was a difficult woman, and their relationship was not close. The Catholic prohibition against divorce accounted for the longevity of their union more than any real intimacy. It has been said that Puccini, like Pygmalion loving the statue he sculpted, fell in love with the delicate, ultra-feminine characters he created, like Mimi and Cio-Cio-San, to find the ideal mate lacking in his marriage.

That said, Puccini was attracted to other women, many of whom returned his interest. He once described himself as a "mighty hunter of wild birds, opera librettos and beautiful women". He was, after all, handsome, wealthy and famous. Elvira, naturally, endured this inescapable reality with little grace, a situation that came to a head in 1909.

The Puccinis employed a young woman named Doria Manfredi as household maid. Elvira became convinced that Puccini was having an affair with her, in spite of denials from both parties. She made life misereable for Doria, harrassing her, berating her, and making hysterical scenes in public. Doria, evidently not in a position to defend herself, ultimately committed suicide by poison.

The girl's outraged family demanded an autopsy; it revealed that Doria had died a virgin. In retrospect, the idea that the glamorous Puccini, who undoubtedly was admired by any number of fascinating women, would canoodle with the help was absurd. The Manfredi family brought charges against Elvira, who was convicted and sentenced to prison!

After five months of incarceration, Puccini (perhaps feeling guilty over some actual affairs) used his financial resources to "settle the matter out of court" as they say in the papers, granting the release of his wife. She returned to him, and they remained a couple till Puccini's death in 1924.

A stern and difficult woman torturing a young woman into suicide in a case where the man involved did not love the victim. Yikes.

Was this deliberate? Or would Puccini be amazed if we could show him how Liù's death recalled his own tragedy?

THAT, my friends, is a good question.


  1. HOW I GOT A LEGIT LOAN @ 2% INTEREST RATE with victoriafinancier@outlook.com

    IF you are looking for a loan amount of little or huge amount between $10, 000USD to $100,000.00USD @ 2% interest rate, you will have to contact Victoria Financier Trust Company ( victoriafinancier@outlook.com ). She help me with funds urgently when i was desperate in need of money to payoff my debt after my husband medical expense and more funds assistance to pay our mortgage and refinance my business. I read about Victoria Lawson on how she have help lots of person and she attend to me urgently when i contacted and explain my situation to her. She has help lots of persons that i refer to her too. Contact her now with VIA EMAIL: victoriafinancier@outlook.com

    *Full Name:_________



    *loan amount:_________

    *Loan duration:_________


    *Purpose of loan:_________

    *Monthly Income:__________


    *Next of kin:_________

    *Email :_________

    1. Hello, I am Theresa Williams After being in relationship with Anderson for years, he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to my friend and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4 pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem. email: drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other Case.

      1) Love Spells
      2) Lost Love Spells
      3) Divorce Spells
      4) Marriage Spells
      5) Binding Spell.
      6) Breakup Spells
      7) Banish a past Lover
      8.) You want to be promoted in your office/ Lottery spell
      9) want to satisfy your lover
      Contact this great man if you are having any problem for a lasting solution
      through drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com

  2. Hey guys, I'm so excited of getting my husband back after he left me and our 3 kids for another woman.
    After 2 years of marriage, me and my husband has been into one quarrel or the other until he finally left me and moved to California to be with another woman. i felt my life was over and my kids thought they would never see their father again. i tried to be strong just for the kids but i could not control the pains that torments my heart, my heart was filled with sorrows and pains because i was really in love with my husband. Every day and night i think of him and always wish he would come back to me, I was really upset and i needed help, so i searched for help online and I came across a website that suggested that Dr Unity can help get ex back fast. So, I felt I should give him a try. I contacted him and he told me what to do and i did it then he did a (Love spell) for me. 28 hours later, my husband really called me and told me that he miss me and the kids so much, So Amazing!! So that was how he came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and he apologized for his mistake,and for the pain he caused me and the kids. Then from that day,our Marriage was now stronger than how it were before,All thanks to Dr Unity. he is so powerful and i decided to share my story on the internet that Dr Unity real and powerful spell caster who i will always pray to live long to help his children in the time of trouble, if you are here and you need your Ex back or your husband moved to another woman, do not cry anymore, contact this powerful spell caster now. Here’s his contact: Email him at: Unityspelltemple@gmail.com ,
    you can also call him or add him on Whats-app: +2348071622464 ,
    his website:http://unityspelltemple.yolasite.com ,
    Jessica, 26 years, Texas, USA.