Puccini's Turandot has had a checkered critical reception. Kerman's intense critique of the opera questioned the worth of the composition
|Nobody would deny that dramatic potential can be found in this tale. Puccini, however, did not find it; his music does nothing to rationalize the legend or illuminate the characters... There is simply no insight into any emotions that might possibly be imagined in any of the situations, to say nothing of an imaginative binding conception. |
while Ashbrook and Powers refer to it in the title of their book as 'the end of the great tradition'.  This study examines the compositional techniques Puccini used to create a sophisticated psychological drama through music: common practice harmonic procedures, associative tonality and the resultant varied musical colors. FN
On 18 March 1920, Puccini's wrote to the librettist Simoni that this opera should be 'Turandot, by way of the modern mind'. Ashbrook and Powers comment that Puccini intended to present the heroine in terms of repression and release of sexual conflict, made explicit rather than buried beneath the generalities and euphemisms of earlier authors.  FN
Tonal association has been used to describe large scale tonal structures in the opera.  Keys associated with Calaf, Turandot and the Emperor are shown in Table I with their associated images:
TABLE I: TONAL ASSOCIATIONS
|Fire||(Air)||Ice = (Water)|
The table contains several categories of imagery: (a) protagonist (b) planetary persona (c) element (d) color and (e) gender. The simplest possible description of Puccini's tonal associations yields categorizations familiar to myth and poetry, and to archetypal and dream images.  From this starting point, we show how Puccini articulated the tale in modern psychosexual terms. FN
Association and Tonalized Relationship
Consider the implications of D = Calaf; Eb = Turandot. These keys are asymmetrical in the same way as the Prince and Princess. Turandot (Eb) reigns and stands above Calaf (D). Calaf is initially overshadowed by the imperious feminine, as in Turandot's first appearance, coinciding with modulation from D to Eb, moonrise, and the appearance of Turandot above the crowd. Psychological entailments develop from visualized tonal relationship. These latter provide a basis for tonalizing relationship dynamics, and harmonic function denotes social and/or psychological function.  FN
Throughout Act I, Puccini emphasizes D as leading tone to Eb, a function experienced by Turandot as a definitive threat. This harmonic/cultural/sexual function is what Turandot seeks to deny. For Turandot, D represents the threat of an upward phallic thrust. This threat is made explicit when the hero rings the gong in D, releasing energy that abducts Turandot's motif, and incites the Prince to modulate upward into Eb.
Sexualized tonality gives psychological significance to Turandot's avoidance of the raised leading tone. Where Calaf's D is defined by its major scale, Turandot's Eb systematically avoids its leading tone. Where her will prevails, D is systematically lowered to Db. Eb natural minor becomes a classical sexual avoidance strategy. Repressed sexuality is expressed tonally by banishment of the masculine D.  Throughout the opera, the Prince seeks resolution upward into her key, while Turandot seeks to push him down, to C# or Db, by which means he is cut down or eliminated. FN
Tonal metaphor defines the major symbolic events in the opera: Act I moonrise and Act III sunrise. The transparently sexual progression from D = severed male head to D = male rising is rendered explicit in hierarchical struggles between D and Eb. Among these, the Ebm: V-i cadence at the act's climax after 24 pages of Eb natural minor is a stroke of tonal genius. Eb V with raised leading tone is out of place in Turandot's world. The gong's explosive release of the Prince's pent-up phallic D weakens Turandot's phallophobic universe.
The Tinte Musicale
Four distinct tinte musicale are identified in Turandot: the 'Chinese,' 'Dissonant,' 'Middle Eastern' and 'Romantic'.  The tinte express the psychological entailments of the D/Eb conflict, and extend their significations deep into the musical structure. We have already shown how banishment of the leading tone from Eb creates the modal quality of Turandot's tinta from precise psychological reasoning. FN
The Dissonant Tinta
The dissonant tinta also results from strict tonal psychology. Ashbrook and Powers state:
|The Execution motive... is a configuration of 'irrational' melodic intervals, characterized by two non-perfect fourths (diminished followed by augmented) and harmonically associated with the characteristic color of a 'bicentric' chord, dissonant with the Execution motive as well as within itself. |
Harmonically, their description is inaccurate. The tones in question a, e#, b, c# are orthodox scale degrees in F# melodic minor, the key into which the motive resolves.  Bicentrality emerges only because the enharmonically equivalent a, f, b, c# are also orthodox D melodic minor scale degrees. This alternate resolution occurs at the D key change marking the opening of the moonrise chorus. Both F#m and D resolutions are rational,  using enharmonic reinterpretation of a pivot tone. It is only because of the tonal rationality of this e# = f pivot tone that Puccini is logically and not arbitrarily able to combine the motif with other elements in a bicentric manner. FN
In continuation  the motif resolves to the F#m tonic chord in time to pull its sequential repetition into the orbit of the F#m dominant, producing a F#m: i-V statement-and-answer pattern. The superimposed Dm bass tonic in turn resolves in the upper register to its own dominant A, producing a tension between the keys of F# and D, each of which maintains its integrity. Turandot's dominant, Bbm, grinds against the resistant D: V expressing her internal psychological struggle to free herself from male dominance and assert her own dominant. By its dominant function, Bb assumes a poetic persona of its own as the key of Turandot's executioners, externalizing this female Eb will-to-dominance by extinguishing the Prince of Persia. FN
Turandot comes to be flanked on left and right by two categories of servants: aggressive dominant enforcers (Bb) and obsequious subdominant minions (Ping, Pang, and Pong, Ab). This pattern is replicated with respect to the masculine D, with its parallel constellation of Am barbarian rapists and GM/m fiancees and slave girls.
The persistence of the opening progressions compels the Mandarin, irrespective of the surrounding tonal environment, to intone his mistress's Law upon sixty-six consecutive notes on the Prince's dominant A, followed by eleven on the tonic D. He only wrests his vocal line free from its obsession with D to have it commandeer Turandot's Eb natural minor scale to express 'al sorger della luna, per man del boia muoia!', boia marked with a fermata on the Mandarin's high D# (=Eb). The pattern 'D=Prince, Eb=his Death' is repeated with reference to Calaf, who identifies himself to his blind father ('Padre! Son io!') on a V-I in D major, while the father cries 'e t'ho creduto morto!' on the fatal V-I in Eb.  The two iterations of the D-to-Eb pattern act to bind the Princes and their fates together. The pathological obsession upon the male D that motivates Turandot is melodically established from the very opening bars, and applied to Princes generally. FN
Bicentricity accrues analytical meaning from this process which permits two quantifiable keys to collide. We call this process tonal interpenetration, pointing to the standard significance of the term 'penetration', referring back the opera's central sexual conflict. This type of tonal interpenetration has as its source the model of Tristan where the thirds Fm and B are combined in the opening chord, later to become the opening and closing key signatures of the final act.  FN
In Turandot, asymmetrical treatment of keys is extended to the keys D and F#. The keys act very differently, according to the logic of Table I. Dm in long notes stands stolid in the bass, suffering the angry scourging of F#m: V, C#. The Prince of Persia failed to answer Turandot's enigmas and will be beheaded at moonrise. Dm images the doomed but unbowed Prince of Persia standing against the F#m assault. Again the dominant (F#: V) begins its career by implementing the entailments of its tonic. Dominant associations develop from functional relation to previously established keys. The C# scourge is the same Db/C# into which Turandot seeks to degrade every D pretender. The Prince of Persia is doubly demoted: from major to minor, and by the C# cut, ending all possibility of D assuming the threatening phallic role of resolution into Eb.
The Middle Eastern Tinta
Resolution into Ebm announces the Prince of Persia's funeral cortège, in the Middle Eastern tinta.  Puccini uses this theme for much more than local color. At Bar 3 the melody rises to a passionately pleading D chord, which disconsolately falls onto a C#m chord as the crowd cries 'O giovinetto!'.  The masculine D is again demoted from its estate as key to the miserable status of an anomalous chord, a plaintive foreigner within Turandot's sound world. It wilts onto the castrating C#m chord, and passes on to extinction, demonstrating the only conditions under which Turandot tolerates the presence of D: a bound and helpless victim dragged downward into the shadows. In these uniquely plaintive sounds may be recognized opera's most brilliant and precise expression of masculine protest. FN
The Middle Eastern tinta is precisely coordinated with the central tonal conflict. The melodic gesture of the augmented second participates in the ascending scale eb-f-gb(f#)-a-bb-c-d, admitting the dominant of D, and permitting it to pivot melodically to its tonic. The f to gb(f#) enharmonically defines DM/m; which is immediately darkened by the ensuing f natural articulating a III chord in Dm, the Prince's final attempt to maintain his masculine identity before being cut down by the C#m: III-i progression. The 'exotic' surface sound of the augmented second results from deep structural necessity of the 'O giovinetto!' permitting D temporary residence within the encapsulating Ebm.
Asymmetrical nature of tonal functions makes possible the great variety of key interpenetrations at Puccini's command, and accounts in part for the flexibility and expressiveness of his late tonal language. In Puccini's hands keys achieve the status of protagonized personalities. In the case of F#m contra Dm both keys act protagonistically: Dm acquires a stoical integrity by means of its bass register, the persistence of its long held notes, and the solidity of its orchestration. By contrast, F#m behaves like a sadist wielding a dominant whip. With respect to D and Eb, the mode of interpenetration is absorption: the D major 'giovinetto' is subsumed into this funereal key as a corpse is covered over with earth (see Figure IV). These distinctive tone complexes, harmonically quantifiable in terms of common practice logic, combine to create psychological expression.
The Persian Prince's execution provides no analytical difficulties. In ecstacy at Turandot's beauty, Calaf sings her name on a high Bb over Eb: I 6/4 reinforced by her personal motif. The Persian Prince echoes his cry offstage in the manner of a supreme invocation, on A over a Dm: V chord, which, held firmly in place by Turandot's dominant,  is disintegrated via an Fm (Bbm: v) stroke, annihilating any possibility of resolution. The crowd screams as his head falls, and the composite A/Bbm chord of the opening bars is confirmed as the dm: V seeking impossible resolution, and being terminated by the Bbm: i-v executioner's stroke.  FN
Semitonality and Pentatonicity:
Castration, Denial, and Hysteria
Two other tinte are manipulated by Puccini for dramatic purposes. Timur and Calaf use standard Romantic-diatonic music; while the Ministers, Liù, the Emperor and Turandot make use of a Chinese tinta. The Chinese sound is the pentatonic scale, in which the interval of the minor second does not exist.  The most extreme melodic and harmonic differences are found between Chinese and Dissonant tinte. FN
Application of the analytical logic
presented above demonstrates that the unity of conception which
binds Middle Eastern and Dissonant tinte operates similarly
between Dissonant and Chinese tinte. Consider
the first appearance of the Three Ministers, who bar the Prince's
way to the gong in the tritonal-oppositional Ab. The
section shows an intimate interaction between Chinese and Dissonant
colours. The Ministers devote their pentatonic energies
to mocking Turandot ('Una femmina colla corona in testa! E
il manto colla fragia! È carne cruda!'). The
moment they draw a breath their music disintegrates into hysterical
orchestral barks in pure 'Dissonant' tinta.
Considering the Dissonant tinta's implication beheading (or castration anxiety) the image is clear. Considering the tonal means of castration, the dissonant minor second, it is evident that the safest tonal refuge is a pentatonic scale. What seems mere chinoiserie on deeper analysis reveals psychological acuity, insofar as the principals involved are devoted to the activity of denial. As resolute denial is never far from hysteria, so the castrating semitonal fantasy thrives within the most rigorous pentatonicity used to repress it. Rather than being the confident male egotists they are impersonating, Turandot's minions are racked with barely-repressible terror. In Puccini's hands, Freud's return of the repressed acquires precise tonal delineation. The moment the male ego takes a breath, Id comes rushing back in all its castrating, semitonal force.
Semitonality and 'Freudian Slips'
Hysterical semitonality returns us to Puccini's Act I semitonal transposition from Em to Ebm in Timur's plea to his son. The existence of two versions requires two different associative-dramatic interpretations. Puccini wrote the original before his concept of the dramatic continuation was clear. He opted for a semitonal break in Timur's plea after the dramatic implications of the libretto had become clear to him, putting his publisher to some trouble and expense to alter the already prepared plates.  Timur's tonal slip linearizes the 'castration' motif that informs semitonality in this opera, and is confined to the articulations of males.  FN
A prominent example is the Trio of Ministers that opens Act II, which gives voice to their confessions of total impotence. The ministers' D is persistently undermined by semitonal slips into Db with effects identical to Timur's parallel E-Eb slip. The two parallel examples express the 'male will contravened' by Turandot. In the Ministers' case it is their enforced subservience which contravenes their desires for independence symbolized by their distant homes. In Timur's case it is his enforced subservience to Turandot's power, through which he loses his his son. In both cases the semitonal slip acts as an overriding feminine power which destroys the masculine tonal thrust. Masculine impotence finds expression in Turandot's semitonal breaks.
The Balance Shifts: The Mandarin Reads the Law for the Second
The tonal catastrophes suffered by D in Act I, and continued in the Ministers' Act II laments, are mended by Calaf in Act II. The first subtle hint of D resurgent occurs when Calaf memorializes the Emperor before entering Turandot's lethal courtship ritual.
Within the masterful sparseness of the scene the Son of Heaven speaks from his static, centrist C major. Calaf's 'Figlio del cielo, io chiedo d'affrontar la prova!' asserts D by his cadential contour of d-d-a, immediately echoed by the orchestral unison cadence. The Emperor is thus obliged to continue with the modal Dm v-i cadence, a-a-a-c-c-d ('Fa ch'io possa morir...') before working his way back to C. This ritualistic dialogue continues until the Emperor's reluctant consent ('Si compia il tuo destino!' g-g-g-a-e-d-d) confirms not his own C but the Prince's 'destiny', D. Despite the orchestra's attempt to reconfirm the tonic C, this tone now becomes a dominant pedal to a brief F-based imperial homage (subdominant minion to the C). The single-flat signature persists, reinterpreted as Dm, as the Mandarin steps forward for the second time to announce Turandot's Law, with a crucial difference.
Where the Persian Prince's D passively suffered the scourge of the dominant of F#m, into whose signature the passage resolved, here the Prince has already established his tonic as the signature key, against which the Mandarin now has to contend to proclaim F#m. The F#m: V chord has become the interloper which struggles to exist and fails. The Mandarin's proclamation ended, F#m: V collapses onto a harmless D: viio7. The priority of D compels the Children's Chorus to intone Turandot's melody in his key. The balance of power has shifted in Calaf's favour.
The Virgin Princess Lo-u-Ling and F#m: The Dm Rapist in
Calaf's appropriation of D tonalizes Turandot's entrance to deliver her accusatory aria, 'In questa Reggia', in his key. Calaf is a threat she attempts to counter with her own key of Ebm, by which she duly attempts to smother D. Her opening lines attempt to cover the Prince's D by moving d's to eb supported by the chords eb-f#-bb and eb-g-bb over a D pedal (see Figure III). D will not be subsumed, and its dominant, Am, throws the tonality into F#m, revealed as Turandot's fantasy of her raped and murdered virgin ancestress ('Principessa Lo-u-Ling...').
'In questa Reggia' delineates the psychological origin of the opera's F#m Act I cruelty. Here the key is devoted to valorizing the purity of the ancestress, or to crying for vengeance for violated virginity. Out of this virgin F#m Turandot contradicts Calaf's D pretensions, reinterpreting it as the minor key of the barbarian invaders/rapists/murderers ('Pure nel tempo che ciascun ricorda...'). This Dm pushes toward Fm to articulate Turandot's accusatory 'trascinata da un uomo... come te straniero'. The Fm contains an echo of the slashing pattern in the opening bars of Act I and at the moment of the Persian Prince's death. Here Puccini composed out the riddle of the opera's opening pages. Turandot's accusation surrounds the defendant Dm with a threatening accusatory witness: the murdered victim's F#m, which only needs assert its dominant C# to bring this new miscreant under the sword.
Turandot's obsession with the rapist D weaves its thread through every detail of Turandot's accusation. For example, the key sections are D-a-f#-d-f-d-F#-Gb-D. This is a straightforward composing out of the D triad. From whatever angle Turandot approaches her subject, D controls her. This is the unvanquished phallic threat, skulking in the background, organizing her consciousness, Freud's 'return of the repressed' with a vengeance. Tonality betrays Turandot's obsession even in her attempts to purge herself. The following key associations have by this time established themselves:
TABLE II: TONAL ASSOCIATIONS OF 'IN QUESTA REGGIA'
|D major||Calaf, the heroic (but unknown, unconscious to Turandot) male|
|D minor||The raping, murdering barbarian male (echoing the shadow D minor of the Prince of Persia)|
|A maj/min||Male dominance or will|
|Eb major||Turandot's public self, her glamour, her charisma|
|Eb minor||Turandot's malice (thwarted by the persistence of D)|
|Bb maj/min||Female dominance Turandot's power over men, externalized in the persons of her executioners|
|F# minor||Turandot's fantasy of mythic purity and serenity projected onto Lo-u-Ling, the Virgin Ancestress|
|F minor||'a man like you' the unknown barbarian who actually employed the knife; also Lo-u's death moment: F minor as semitonal sinking of F# minor|
|Gb major||Turandot's fantasy of personally reincarnating the mythic Ancestress (F# minor to tonic major)|
The most intense index of tonal conflict between Turandot's and Calaf's realms comes at the level of their respective dominants. Turandot's response to Lo-u's F#m by moving to Gb changes a single note: the note that gives her power (Bb) for the note that gave men power (A). This linearizes Turandot's aggressive dominant which ground against and overwhelmed the Prince of Persia's vulnerable D: V , a straightforward instance of poetic justice worthy of the irate Id, an eye for an eye, a head for a head.
Turandot's tonal rationale for taking retribution into her own hands is carefully constructed. To Turandot, Lo-u-Ling carries every fantasy-projection of purity, sanctity, virginity, serenity, and holiness. Lo-u-Ling's tonic languishes in the minor mode of death while Turandot identifies herself as the victim's reborn spirit in Gb, transferring that imputed purity and serenity to this key. This unconscious positive transference brings Turandot herself within the orbit of Ebm, onto which is transferred the negative content of Turandot's Gb fantasy. The projection of this negative shadow upon society as a whole endows the tonic major Eb with the characteristics of valorization: inflation, approval, vindication and adulation (see Table III).
TABLE III: TONAL/POETIC PATH OF TURANDOT'S 'VIRGIN FANTASY'
|F# minor||Gb major||Eb minor||Eb major|
|tonic minor||tonic major||relative minor||tonic major|
|virgin archetype||positive transference||negative transference||inflation|
|inverted female||outreaching female||negative potency||
|sacred enclosure||stepping forth||overwhelming||valorized|
|feminine death||feminine rebirth||feminine crusade||feminine triumph|
|vengeful ghost||sacred spirit||death goddess||life goddess|
|feminine weakness||feminine strength||feminine terror||omnipotence|
This sequence is the most direct modulatory path from F#m to Eb, forming a psychologically and tonally linked chain, each link confirmed by its own independent imagery.
Turandot's riddles offer a unique study in tonal psychology. The solutions to the three enigmas occur to a key scheme of Dm-Dm-Ebm. This key sequence is precisely consistent with the psychological drama Puccini projects. The association of the solution, 'Turandot', with Ebm is self-evident. The reiterated Dm solutions, 'hope' and 'blood', tonally encode references to Calaf. The first solution, 'sangue', is prefigured by the Emperor himself. Calling upon Calaf to renounce his intention, he cries 'gronda di sangue! Basta sangue!' Within the pentatonic constraints of the Emperor's ritualistic discourse, the keyword sangue twice outlines the Dm module of his pentatonic sound world. Out of this Dm region Calaf speaks, and the Emperor confirms it with his final 'Si compia il tuo destino!'. Thus sangue and destino are both associated by the Emperor with Calaf and D. Blood is in his destiny, and sangue takes its place in Calaf's D-based table of associations.  The opera is framed with the sun's blood (sunset and sunrise). The Prince of Persia is Calaf's unsuccessful shadow, and Calaf approaches Turandot, metaphorically drenched in his setting predecessor's blood. The Emperor's reiterations of sangue and his continuation into destiny recall the bloody past, and hope for a sunrise to come. FN
Puccini's intended to show that Turandot surrenders because she unconsciously loved the Prince all along. Puccini's success in expressing this psychological complex in purely tonal terms is perhaps the point upon which the concept of Turandot stands or falls. Sadly, death claimed the master before he solved this ultimate riddle. We are left with fragments and speculations as to what might have been composed. Conscious intention having been thwarted, we are justified in seeking some remnant of plausible preparation for Turandot's conversion.
This psychological dynamic was encrypted into the Riddle Scene with its unique tonal progression d-d-eb and its strictly associative solutions: hope, blood, and Turandot.
|image||(a) Hope||(b) Blood||(c) Turandot|
Poetry and key specify 'hope' and 'blood' as 'Calaf's', and 'Turandot' as "Turandot's", resulting in an intelligible phrase:
It is a well known characteristic of unconscious desire that it appears in projection the subject's unconscious desires being projected upon the object as if it originated in the object.  The riddles were penned by Turandot at a time when she consciously clung with utmost vehemence to her phallophobia. This message could only arise from her unconscious desire. The projection active here is obvious, the document was penned for Calaf to speak: she wants the words to come from him and orchestrates developments accordingly. Calaf's passion is Turandot's. FN
As an additional psychological bonus, Turandot's management of affairs obliges Calaf to act out, in public view, precisely that phallic D-to-Eb thrust for which every other suitor has lost his head. To tonal representations of sexual avoidance, hysteria, denial, projection, castration anxiety, phallicism, transference and archetypes, Puccini adds Turandot's sexual ambivalence. The intelligibility of the enigmas demands the tonal sequence actually given it. If not present in precisely this form, the three words 'l'esperanza', 'il sangue', and 'Turandot' would be either unintelligible (without the tonality) or nonsensical (with tonality scrambled). The specific contribution of the tonality is the attribution of personal ownership to the images, rendering them decipherable.
The scene depicting Turandot's reaction to defeat yields further details of her tonal psychology. In a 21-measure passage Turandot begs her father for release from the judgment over a progression from G: I (and terrified D: IV ) to C: V. Calaf's success leaves her helpless and trembling, suspended between the sound spaces commanded by her father and her husband-to-be. G precisely tonalizes the moment when the daughter is given away by her father into the custody of her husband. Her unwillingness is shown by reversion to G as dominant. FN
In traditional societies such as the China imagined in our tale, the agony was compounded by the fact that the husband was typically unknown, a stranger whom the bride met for the first time at the nuptial ceremony. Turandot's emotional response is a piece of masterful tonal psychology: recoiling from the threatening Dm back against her father's patriarchal C, she claws her way up the C scale to high C, literally storming the seat of heaven in an attempt to avoid the phallic clutches.
Since Turandot's weak point is the abhorrent servile subdominant function of D, Calaf offers her a way out: 'Dimmi il mio nome, prima del l'alba! E all'alba morirò!', flattening his unwelcome intrusion into Db, as far from this fear as tonally possible. Immediately following the snarling Dm of the Prince's 'Tre enigmi m'hai proposto!' the sudden sinking into Db has the most placating effect possible. The psychological brilliance of this counter-thrust is that, while encouraging her to hear him as a solace, Calaf has deflected her obsessional attention not upon D which carries her unconscious projections, but himself as a person. After a night of obsessing 'who is this guy?', Turandot will have come as close as she ever has to relating to an individual.
D Major Ascendant: 'Nessun Dorma'
The Act III opening 'castration chords' appear muted in the distance, Lo-u-Ling's vengeful ghost wailing for her victim.  FN
The hidden chorus intones Turandot's latest obnoxious decree: 'None shall sleep until the name is revealed!'. Calaf responds that his name is safely hidden ('Nessun dorma!') as it is indeed: a covert D major Sun hidden within its subdominant signature G major. Puccini allows us an intimate view of how the protagonists project different contents onto the key of G. In both cases the key implies the 'dark hour before sunrise'. Where the key inspires terrified avoidance in Turandot, it carries Calaf's fond hopes.
The aria contains two other striking confirmations of the role reversal which the Prince is now quietly enjoying. In Turandot's aria, the uneasy Eb unsuccessfully attempted to smother the Prince's stolid D pedal (female superior), here the D repays the complement with complete success. This confident chord (a V13 in fifth inversion) is actually a dominant function (D) chord scored over a fifth Eb-Bb in the bass. The power axis has been reversed, and this chord thrusts Turandot's Eb down, where it is 'ridden' by the sovereign D inverted pedal. As in 'In questa reggia', tonal interpenetration is condensed to the level of a single tonal complex keyed in this case to the word 'Principessa'. It depicts the Prince's intentions with almost pornographic specificity (Figure III).  When the principle melodic material of the aria arrives in D, having released itself from the power of the Eb, it is purged of the negative aspects of this key's associations, the final climax achieved on the word 'vinceró' is on A, the key which conquered Lo-u-Ling. FN
The absence of tonal unity in this piece is perfectly cued to the psychotonal peregrinations of the masculine D which represent the central harmonic issue of this opera. These various tonal transformations take place between the blood-red sunset and the rising sun of love. Archetypal psychology recognizes this configuration as the classical 'Night Sea Journey' descent into the underworld, or the world beneath the sea, or the sphere of the feminine death-moon. In 'Nessun dorma' the hero climbs out of that darkness into which he plunged at sunset.
Eb Rear-Guard Actions
The bribing of the Unknown with sensuous slave girls in the Middle Eastern tinta darkens the G signature of the Prince's pleasant fantasies to Am, attempting to draw him into the abuse of women. This episode shows the expressive validity of this tinta's augmented seconds as the gapped g-c# repeatedly rub sensuously up against the hero's D like so many purring kittens. The ensuing bribery-with-wealth is interesting for the disintegration of its modal D under the Ministers' terror of Turandot's wrath: 'non sai di che cosa è capace la Crudele'. The very thought wounds the key with Eb, dragging the tonality 'down' into the requisite Ebm.
This modulation contains psychological implications. The Ebm is keyed here via Cm though the imagery of torture ('non sai quali orrendi martiri la China inventi'). Hitherto we have not imagined Turandot's power to extend beyond suitors to a wider circle of victims. Here C is pulverized into its shadow parallel minor by the increasingly homocidal Ebm. Turandot corrupts the Throne of Heaven itself.
Cm shortly achieves one of its few independent signature-moments when Liù is dragged forth to be tortured. The Cm connects to Ebm through Eb major, the key of Turandot's psychological inflation. Combined with the galling frustration of Calaf's immunity from her outrages, the psychology of this spreading tonal contagion (Ebm-Cm) is Turandot reaching for surrogate victims, and commandeering the Emperor's 'shadow' key to do so.  FN
Liù and Timur are dragged out in Turandot's own Eb ('Eccolo il nome!') but Turandot herself appears, adorned in the 'Mo-li-hua' motif, in Gb. Thus Princess and slave confront each other for the first and only time in the key once inhabited by Lo-u-Ling and now appropriated by both their common ground. In her Aria, Turandot revealed her fantasy life as the reincarnated spirit of the dead Ancestress. In this inflated conceit it is not difficult to recognize a variant on Freud's well-known 'Family Romance'.  Turandot has opted to descend from the archetypal essence of supernatural purity, serenity, chastity, charity, feminine sovereignty, of every imaginable female virtue. In the secret garden of her fantasy, all this virtue deposits into Gb, meaning 'Lo-u'. FN
Now Liù appears, for whom Gb is not fantasy but reality. Superficially in every respect Lo-u's opposite, Liù is no celestial daughter of heaven, but 'nothing, a slave'. The Highest confronts the Lowest to find there embodied every reality of feminine virtue to which Turandot can only pretend. In Liù's two arias Gb major is a crucial factor. In 'Signore ascolta' Liù informs that the 'shadow of a smile' (l'ombra d'un sorriso) kept her and Timur alive (in opposition to the echo of a cry for which Turandot murders). Liù is surrounded by poetic resonances of lowliness; and nothingness (with Taoistic resonances applied elsewhere by Ping to Turandot). Barely in this world, surviving on a departed shadow, Liù, like Lo-u-Ling, is a ghost. Through this imagery, one could argue that Liù is more connected to Lo-u than to any of the living protagonists. Timur recognizes this when, mourning her death, he cries out a warning against her avenging ghost.
This is the significance of 'Liù' which seems to have evaded the librettists. As late as 3 November, 1922, it had not been decided whether Liù was to live or die, let alone what the latter might signify.  The character of Liù was moving in the direction of embodying the true meaning of Lo-u, demonstrating the Ancesstress's virtue, purifying Turandot's fantasies, and moving her in the direction of matrimony.  Turandot's healing commences upon adopting the new interpretation of Gb forced upon her by Liù. Finally, when Gb is corrected, a new meaning is imposed upon its dominant, Db, which becomes the champion of love. FN
In the face of uncertainties from the librettists, it is interesting that the suggestion that Liù be sacrificed came from Puccini. After imploring in vain for suitable words for Liù's death, he provided words to music he had already composed. Because chronic confusion characterized the shaping of Act III, Puccini had to work intuitively. His solution to the mystery of Turandot, Liù, and Lo-u-Ling, was tonal. Tonality confirms the role only hinted at in the slave girl's dialogue.
Calaf and Turandot are tonalized in D and Ebm respectively. The
degrees of these scales are superimposed in Table IV. The
two protagonists hold only the tones f#/gb, b/cb, and c#/db in
common. Tonic, subdominant and dominant of F#m/Gb tonicize
their common ground.
TABLE IV: SCALE DEGREES OF THE MAJOR PLAYERS
This common ground tonalizes the two secondary characters, one of them a potentiality and one a fantasy: Liù and Lo-u.
The common ground is associated with the ghost (Lo-u) and with the 'nothing' (Liù). Therefore f#/Gb was associated in the composer's mind with the unconscious, the unknown matrix of this opera's unique dramatic events. Calaf and Turandot find their common ground in their joint or collective unconscious. It is in this sunset realm that both human characters acquire the mythic, astrological resonances of sun and moon which cling to them and which signal a collective, psychic aspect to their interactions and their fate.
In Table IV two sets of scale degrees embody the grinding semitone, the systematic index of dramatic and sexual conflict: the protagonistic d/eb and the dominating a/bb. These two dominants, superimposed, contend over their common tone, db/c#. Whether this tone is to mean death (c#) or love (db) hangs in the balance.
Two tones are marginalized in this system by the tonal logic of this matrix, e and f. The former is Timur's, and Liù appropriates the latter when she publicly abdicates, pleading with Turandot to embody the loving spirit that she, Liù, has demonstrated. Tonal marginalization expresses refugee, homeless, or outcast. Liù's F plea again invokes the semitonal 'sinking' motif. She voluntarily vacates Gb for occupation by a loving, rather than homicidal, Princess. This logic extends further by association of E with torture.  As a result of this torture, Liù briefly rises to F to deliver her sermon on love and then dies in Eb. The tonal path gb (Liù) f (her message) e (her torture) eb (death) marks the slave girl's exit from events and, incidentally, defines Puccini's own exit from this life, for this Ebm funeral cortège was the last completed music he composed. FN
Table V leaves a single tone unrepresented. Its exclusion is of a higher order than the marginalizations of E and F. In the matrix of tones linking Calaf and Turandot, C does not exist. Like the Son of Heaven whom it expresses, it stands above and apart from the actions and characters of the drama, an observer and not a player. His signification in C is consistent with the absence of c from the scales representing the protagonists and their struggles.
The Sketches and the Final Solution
Any analysis of Turandot must come to grips with Puccini's sketches for the final scene. This scene is the crux of the opera and remained incomplete at his death. Alfano's version currently in use uses much of Puccini's sketches but ignores large and crucial segments and their tonal implications. This has not only provided an unsatisfactory finale but its tonal incoherence obscures the opera's otherwise precise tonal-dramatic scheme.
We will now discuss four portions of the final sketches (including some comparisons with Alfano's version) and show that the sketches indicate a completion consistent with Puccini's procedures throughout the opera. It will become evident that Alfano missed some of these issues entirely, to the detriment of dramatic, tonal, and psychological coherence.
Figure I shows the music for the now infamous Kiss (beginning with the last syllable of Calaf's 'il baccio tuo mi da l'eternita'). Figure Ia contains the music Alfano composed for this section (the eight measures preceding III RH 39) while Figure Ib indicates the seven measure reconstruction of Puccini's sketch hypothesized by Ashbrook and Powers. The importance of this short excerpt should not be underestimated: Puccini's sketches are otherwise continuous from RH 35 through fourteen measures after RH 40 of Act III. It is only the short section of the kiss leading into RH 39 that is not Puccini's, and it is in that section that the musical coherence of Alfano's scene collapses.
Puccini composed two sketches for the kiss. The first developed the 'mai nessun m'avra' motive, signalling Turandot's resistance. The second version is presented in Example Ib. Despite Kerman's negative critical evaluations of Puccini's assumption of the cure-all power of a kiss, Puccini had a clear intuition how to realize the psychological event in tonal terms. The alternation of Db and Eb major chords of Example Ib recalls the three measures before the execution of the Persian Prince. In Act I the chords occur over a Bb pedal, and lead to the A over Bbm tonal crunch, the chord to which the offending male loses his head.
The opening measure of Example Ib points in the opposite direction. Throughout Act I, D was imprisoned between the constricting Eb-over-C# up to the point of death itself. At the moment of the kiss the Db-over-Eb interval is poised to open rather than to close, resolving outward to the octave D. This is another example of tonalized psychology: manipulation of the high-low axis through inversion to express changing power relations between the protagonists.
Puccini demonstrates his psychological concept with subtlety. The Db chord ineffectively attempting motion to Eb leads instead to the dominant of D. The oppressed masculine Db now becomes the leading tone to the healthy masculine D. The Db over Eb is a musical moment of healing: the two tonalities Turandot has adopted as her position of retreat (Eb) and abuse (Db) are poised to return to D in an expansive healing embrace, rather than in a compressive gesture of murderous rage.
Following Example Ib with RH 39 of Act III is also revealing. The women's chorus introduced at RH39 enters on an Am chord with added F# and exits on an F# chord. The tonal implication is clear. Beginning with the kiss Db over Eb moves to A, the women's chorus adds f# and moves to an F# chord. As in 'In questa Reggia', this sequence of Db major A major/minor F# major is the simple composing out of a tonality through modulations arpeggiating the tonic chord. Turandot's/Lo-u's F#m has begun to open from within, gaining a more elaborated internal structure as each of its elements opens to display new levels of psychological depth. The action of F# added to the Am chord serves to transform Turandot's F#m into major, preparing her to assume the position vacated by the death of Liù.
The healing remains incomplete, since the background structure of Db-A-F# is still not consistent with the foreground key of F# major in which the women's chorus deposits Turandot's newly flowering inner female voice, and she remains subject to the tonal power of male dominance. Her final psychological healing will not come until the moment at which she can substitute her own power for that of men, her Bb for his A, in a gesture not contaminated by phobic fury. This would mirror the central event of 'In questa Reggia', the introduction of the 'mai nessun m'avra' melody in Gb in response to Lo-u's death in F#m.
Without the strong Db effect of the kiss itself in Puccini's sketch this section becomes tonally and psychologically incoherent. Whatever his reasons, Alfano's choice to ignore this sketch has resulted in a tonal scheme which is neither suggestive of the healing Puccini intuited nor logical within the tonal realm he so painstakingly created. In some respects Alfano's solution to this compositional problem create effects which are actually disintegrative of the dramatic development. For instance, the kiss takes place over an eight measure E pedal, the same E pedal used for Liù's torture. Whereas Puccini had apparently moved from the idea that Turandot would resist the kiss to the idea that she would instantly surrender, Alfano composes as if the entire episode expressed torture.  As a tonal representation of reversed sexual sadism such a construction could perhaps be supported, but it is entirely irrelevant to the music that follows. The female chorus is as out of place in response to torture as their inclusion would be in the earlier torture of Liù, and Turandot's dolce question 'Come vincesti?' (how did you win) is hardly the affect of a Princess on the rack. In essence, Alfano does not seem to have viewed the kiss as a moment of healing, but rather as a moment of sexual abuse, and it is in large part due to these eight measures that the rest of the duet comes off as incoherent and unbelievable.  FN
The second part of the closing sketches we discuss is perhaps less demonstrable but correlates with the material we have presented. There is a particularly interesting sketch on folio 17.  The sketch contains the words 'so il tuo nome. Arbitra son [del tuo destino...]'. Below eight untexted measures, a lush and wide-ranging diatonic melody in Bbm/Db moves into E. At the bottom of the page are the words 'poi Tristano'. FN
The significance of this sketch on folio 17 is clear in the light of our analysis. Bbm is the key of Turandot's power and, hence, the key of the executioners. Bb is the one difference between Lo-u-Ling's exterminated F#m and Turandot's defiant 'mai nessun m'avra'. That she resorts to this key when the Prince has restored her power is only to be expected in light of our hypothesized tonal associations. That Turandot would invoke E to purge herself of the shadow of this key is also appropriate: it is as far removed from Bb minor as it is possible to be, a tritone change of mode. This sketch must point the way to the reconciliation of the two lovers. It seems to have been ignored by Alfano.
Also ignored by Alfano was the sketch on folio 15, which contains the music Puccini intended for the stage transformation. Puccini's words read: 'change of scene', 'dawn prelude', 'trumpets and three chords', then 'piccolos, celeste, flute, carillon, bells, 2 gongs', 'big bells', 'glissandos of harps xylo and celeste' and 'Largo'. Puccini's idea was that the violent darkness into which the drama plunged in the opening measures at sunset were to be dissolved rather than conquered as light returned to the scene.
Finally, in an act of speculation, we compare Alfano's preparation for the reprise of 'Nessun dorma' with a suggestion based upon the tonal and dramatic logic of Puccini's kiss chord and its resolution. Example II shows these two excerpts leading into D. The Alfano example is again strident and abusive, the D pedal hammering away at the harmonies from above before launching angrily into the famous melody. Beneath it all is the dominant pedal of D major, A, so thoroughly implicated in the abuse of women in Turandot's scale of values.
The resolution directly to D from the kiss chord creates an entirely different and more psychologically relevant effect. The dominating A is nowhere in evidence, and the effect of the female Eb embracing the D and restoring the abused Db to its proper place confirms the implications of the kiss as a gesture of healing and reconciliation. This particular resolution also avoids the squabbling Bb and A. Instead, both protagonists are treated as equals and neither is subject to the dominating influence of the other. This resolution is consistent with the sound colors suggested for the transformation scene at the end of the act by Puccini's sketches: the tension of Turandot's dark night is dissolved into light. Finally, the augmented sixth nature of this resolution may be related somehow to the cryptic words at the bottom of folio 17 'poi Tristano'.
No one can say what Puccini would have done had he lived, but clearly his solution would have differed profoundly from Alfano's. The difference would have been musical, psychological and dramatic as well. It has often been speculated whether Puccini was capable of resolving the problems of Turandot's psychological evolution in tonal terms. The sketches point in a direction that suggests a true tonal solution was in the works, which was consistent with the rest of the opera. It did not rely only on melodic inspiration but on deeply structured tonal relationships.
The time is ripe for re-evaluation of the complete final sketches. Alfano's version can not to be accepted, since Alfano actively ignored and misunderstood the sketches to which he had access. It is also clear that in his macho brutalizing style of composition he has rendered the entire dramatic structure of the opera incoherent, as Kerman's evaluation has shown.
In light of these sketches, it appears that Puccini's solution would have been the opposite of what we have become accustomed to hearing, and a symmetry seems to have been building between acts I and III. As night falls in Act I Calaf embraces Turandot, as day breaks at the end Turandot embraces Calaf both these events being tonally encoded in the shifting relationships between the tones Eb and D in their various occurrences as keys, chords and notes within chords. A cyclical effect seems to have been emerging in Puccini's conception.
Calaf's journey takes on mythological dimensions. His descent into darkness, and his release of Turandot from her psychosis is a parallel of the Orphic cycle, which modern psychology has long understood as the descent of consciousness into the depths of the unconscious and its harrowing encounter with its own shadow.  Its essence is the heroic plunge into the underworld, the unknown, or unconscious, to achieve the redemptive vision.  Broader implications can be drawn beyond the narrow realm of sexual politics: Calaf seems literally to embrace his opposite in the darkness in order to emerge a more whole and complete character. Puccini's profundity is overwhelmed by Alfano's misplaced bombastic masculine victory in the war between the sexes. After all, in this opera it is Turandot, the repressed female figure, who is domineering, abusive and violent. Calaf heals her not through the exercise of a greater force, but rather through an act of loving submission, the role traditionally assigned to the female protagonist. FN
In Turandot music, sexuality and consciousness merge into a higher unity. To experience sexual intercourse has always been poetically 'to know', and the sexual wrangling depicted here is as much about the direction in which consciousness is to unfold as who shall wear the pants. By tonalizing the parallel struggles for sexual supremacy and for consciousness Puccini and his librettists achieved their intention of creating a Turandot by way of the modern mind.
1 Kerman, Joseph, Opera as Drama
(New York: Vintage Books, 1956), p. 255.
2 Ashbrook, William and Powers, Harold, Puccini's Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995). Back
3 Ibid. p. 61. Back
4 See e.g., ibid. p. 103-105, for a discussion of the half step transposition in Timur's speech in Act I or p. 107 for discussion of the significance of the keys of C, D and Eb in relation to the characters of Emperor, Prince and Princess and their associated qualities.
5 C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, Psychology and Alchemy, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, etc. See also below, footnotes 18, 23, 25, and 27. Back
6 Puccini's tonal metaphors conform to standard orientational metaphors of superiority and inferiority. The linguists Lakoff and Johnson, for instance, devote much discussion to orientational metaphors. 'Such metaphorical orientations are not arbitrary. They have a basis in our physical and cultural experience... Having control or force is UP; being subject to control or force is DOWN.' See Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark, Metaphors we live by (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) pp. 14-15. In Turandot, position in the tonal hierarchy demonstrates the protagonists' sexual jockeying. Back
7 Indeed, Turandot employs the lowered seventh degree everywhere. Besides use of Eb mixolydian for her exotic 'Mo-li-hua' melody, 'In questa Reggia' substitutes D dorian for D minor. Back
8 Ashbrook and Powers, p. 94. Back
9 Ibid. p. 93.
10 Ibid. p. 16, Example I.
11 As discussed below, the order of the two resolutions is crucial: the captive D is not released into its signature key until F# minor has had its way. Hence the reinterpretation of D from "Prince" to "severed head," "pallid face," and the like. Back
12 Ashbrook and Powers, p. 16, Example 1, bars 1-6. Back
13 The D-to-Eb (hero-to-death) pattern also recurs, this time in signature changes and mediated by the crucial F# major, at the climax of "in questa Reggia" at the words, 'Straniero! Non tentar la fortuna! (D-F#) Gli enigmi sono tre, la morte è una!' (Stranger! Do not tempt fortune! The enigmas are three, death is one!). Back
14 See Tuttle, Marshall, Musical Structure in Wagnerian Opera (Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001). Chapter 3 discusses the use of the Tristan Chord at every level of tonal function. Chopin also used the process, for example in the slow movement of his Cello Sonata. The movement, in Bb, begins on an Eb: V7 chord. Over the course of the movement the wrong note Ab separates out as a separate contending key area and Bb is ultimately cleansed of this contaminating influence. The tonal cluster of D-Eb-F# echoes the cluster of Db-D-F# which controls Wotan's destiny (Tuttle, ibid, Chapter 7). Back
15 This tinta is further described as 'an occasional 'Middle Eastern' orientalism, marked by augmented seconds, drone pedal-points, and a percussively tinged orchestral accompaniment', Ashbrook and Powers, p. 94.
16 'The D-into-C# move is correlated with a direct invocation of the Prince's person.' Ashbrook and Powers take passing note of the inappropriateness of the chord (p. 111). We assert its psychological significance. Back
17 Note again the insistence on the male-denying db tone, v of Eb, successfully contending against the male-affirming c# tone, V of D.
18 That the B flat key or chord expresses the active potency of the Eb Turandot is also suggested by its recurrence in the 'Executioner's chorus'. Back
19 It is the use of this scale that provokes Joseph Kerman's criticism, describing Turandot as depraved 'shades of meaning can drift aimlessly from one pentatonic tune to the next' (Opera and Drama, p. 255). Back
20 Powers treats this issue in a separate paper, commenting that the shift occurs at the point where Timur calls out for assistance. 'One halfstep at a time: Tonal transposition and 'split association' in Italian opera,' Cambridge Opera Journal, 7, 2, 1995, p. 142.
21 Turandot denies the semitone's applicability to herself via her characteristic scalar Db. Back
22 See, for example, C. G. Jung, 'The Visions of Zosimos,' in Alchemical Studies, par. 95. The poetic images, sun, male, gold, fire, blood, head, decapitation, cohere in the manner of a poetic constellation. The Christian parallel is Christ himself, who is redeemer, sunrise, sunset, blood, etc. Ashbrook and Powers synopsis of the opera's opening scene includes description of impaled skulls of beheaded suitors at the blood-red hour of susnset (p. 16). Back
23 The dependency on projection rather than knowledge is in fact the most outstanding psychological attribute of Turandot's attitude toward men. Its appearance here is consistent with her psychology generally. Back
24 We have remarked upon Puccini's use of the subdominant function to connote subordination as in the Ministers' subdominant relation to Turandot. Here the tables are turned on her. Back
25 It is pertinent to point out that this precisely tuned tonal structure is antithetical to the 'impressionist' terms in which this 'nocturne' is commended. Back
26 Again, Ashbrook and Powers' 'sexual release made explicit', though perhaps more explicit than even they had in mind. Back
27 In tonal terms it is fortunate for the old Altoum that his maniacal daughter was stopped at this point. He might have been next. Back
28 In this fantasy, which Freud and Otto Rank named the 'Family Romance', the child replaces one or both of his parents with elevated surrogates heroes, celebrities, kings, or nobles. Back
29 'I believe that Liù will have to be sacrificed to some sorrow, but I think this cannot be developed unless she is made to die in the torture episode. And why not? Her death can have a powerful influence in bringing about the thawing of Turandot... I am sailing on seas of uncertainties. This subject has caused me great distress of spirit." Cited in Ashbrook and Powers, pp. 80-81.
30 This configuration a solar hero confronting two parallel feminine figures, one of astounding beauty and supernatural influence, the other meek and lowly is commonplace in myth, imaginative fiction, and even in opera. The origin of this is the archetypal configuration of the 'Two Mothers,' see C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation. Back
31 Discussed by Ashbrook and Powers [pgs. 99f]. For Alfano's misunderstanding of the significance of the pedal-E gesture, see below. Back
32 An interpretation strengthened by the fact that at the kiss Alfano embellishes Puccini's earlier 'torturing' e-pedal with reiterated fortissimo bass thumps reminiscent of Fafner's homicidal bludgeoning of Fasolt.
33 This speaks to the crux of Kerman's criticism. Puccini had set up a resolution much like that of Tristan where the love potion merely releases what the protagonists already felt. Puccini's kiss merely expresses Turandot's inner truth, it does not in any way overpower her. Without the proper music this event transforms two and a half acts of careful musical preparation into meaningless irrelevant noise. Back
34 Juergen Mähder, 'Puccini's Turandot: A Fragment' English National Opera Guide No. 27 (London and New York, 1984), p. 44. Mähder also describes Alfano's composition in terms of brutality. Back
35 See C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation (pars. 577f.) for a discussion of moonsickness in this regard, and C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (pars 414f.) for a discussion of the death and rebirth symbolism associated with decapitation-sunrise. Orphic cosmogony, incorporated into Renaissance Neo-Platonism, likewise formed a significant element in the psychological genesis of opera itself (for an account of this see Donington, Robert, The Rise of Opera (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981). In this last great Italian opera, then, Puccini, like Orpheus, descended into the dark mysteries of his very art-form for his materials.
36 The powerful emphasis on the unknown that permeates this last of the great Italian operas makes itself felt in numerous images: the Unknown Prince, Turandot's riddles, the Liù's nothingness, Lo-u-Ling's echo, Timur's blindness, the blank white face of the Son of Heaven's, the poetic flirtations with Taoist images emptiness, black darkness, and dissolution in the nonrevealing 'light' of an enigmatic moon. To this we may add the imagery of beheading which, combined with its opposite mad infatuation (Calaf's smittenness being poetically depicted as a form of lunacy or moon-struckness) permeates all aspects of the depictions of sexuality in this opera. One by one, either literally or symbolically, the protagonists lose their heads consciousness and plunge into the waiting depths. Back
© Jonathan Christian Petty & Marshall Tuttle 2001