"Bravo to conductor Carlo Goldstein for conducting this excellent orchestra with elegance, free from any exaggeration, and with an attention to detail that did justice to this sophisticated score."  

Musica - Nicola Cattò


Puccini departed for Brussels on his final journey, bringing with him a few sheets of notes on which he hoped to be able to work. He feared, and perhaps in part already knew, that he would not be able to complete that score which, in the previous three years, had grown in his hands until it assumed grandiose proportions. Those few sheets, subsequently scoured by generations of scholars, contained drafts, ideas, and above all the hope that his most ambitious creation – Turandot – would not remain forever unfinished due to those two horrifying words that doctors have long hesitated to pronounce: laryngeal carcinoma.

Imagine the fear with which Puccini took that last journey of hope; I see him in the terrible vicissitudes of the disease, clutching those last few music sheets tightly, stubbornly attached to Turandot just as anyone in times of extreme crisis is attached to what they love most. The Princess is present until the very end of his letters: "Sono grave! Ti puoi figurare il mio animo. (…) Che Miserie! Turandot? Mah! Non averla finita, quest’opera, mi addolora. Guarirò? Potrò finirla in tempo?" ("I am seriously ill! You could figure my soul. (...) What miseries! Turandot? Mah! Not having completed this opera aggrieves me. Will I recover? Will I be able to finish it in time?") The anxiety that dominates this work from the beginning becomes one with the anxiety of its composer, who is facing the prospect of a journey from which he may not return; the fear of not being able to transform the Princess into an enamored woman coincides with the fear of not surviving and never returning home.

Up to this point in the third act, Puccini had managed to surpass himself, and he knew it: the expansion of the orchestra had enriched his expressive palette, enabling him to develop the oriental fairytale element and avoid succumbing to the trappings of folklore. For the crowd, the omnipresent and plural character that enhances the aura of the protagonists, he had developed unusual varieties of choral writing that place the apotheosis alongside whispered and spoken language. The mingling of the tragic elements and the comedy of the Masks came naturally and dictated the perfect theatrical rhythms for the entire story. In short, everything had found its place through the spontaneity that only talent can grant.

In the second act, Puccini was able to depict the wickedness of the heroine in wonderful ways; with effective realism that gave a voice to cruelty without falling into the trap of sentiment. He succeeded where many had not believed he could: representing evil! The poet of emotion – and, in the view of his detractors, facile emotion – had created a sublime monster in which psychological complexity, erotic conflict, and the character's frustration came together to sculpt an authentically contemporary theatrical figure.

Puccini had come to the point now, however, that he had feared from the beginning: the decisive catharsis of the final duet. Puccini had harassed his librettists, making them rework it at least four times. For the decisive kiss scene, we do not know if he would eventually opt, as Alfano did, for the wounded pride of the Princess, or instead for an inner transformation, as Berio develops here as a symphonic episode. We know that he intended, according to a note in the papers brought with him on the last journey, to "trovare qui melodia tipica, vaga, insolita" ("find here characteristic, lovely, unusual melody"). And yet, he wrote in a letter to the librettists: "Urge commuovere alla fine!... Perciò niente retorica! Il travaso d’amore deve giungere come un bolide luminoso in mezzo al clangore del popolo che estatico lo assorbe attraverso i nervi tesi come corde di violoncelli frementi." ("It is vital to have a stirring finale! ...so nothing rhetorical! The effusion of love must arrive like a luminous fireball amidst the din of the people, who ecstatically absorb it with their nerves as taut as quivering cello strings.") By saying "Il travaso d’amore" ("effusion of love"), Puccini certainly had in mind the second act of Wagner's Tristan, and in tackling the kissing scene we imagine that he would have recalled the emotional complexity – in which erotic attraction and repulsion are intertwined – of Salome's horrific kiss on the head of Jochanaan, by his much-admired Strauss.

He now found himself at the finale, where he had to unravel the tangle with the aid of an instrument that he had not been too fond of in the past: a Duet. Puccini's theater is one of personal feelings, and its principal instrument is the Aria. As opposed to Verdi, who conceives the theater in social terms, and thus places his characters in constant confrontation with each other, the duet for Puccini is at best a relaxing moment – "Non la sospiri la nostra casetta…" in Tosca – or a sublimation of a previous aria – "O soave fanciulla…" in La Bohème. Turandot finally presented Puccini with the challenge of concluding a work with an epic love duet – as in Aida –creating irresistible empathy through transfigured symbolic and real sentiments: a challenge that we will never know how he would have overcome.

Puccini was aiming for an emotionally complex, non-rhetorical finale; a finale that would make us accept the metamorphosis of the heroine by showing her contradictions and devious nature. A finale that should have been decisive, yes, but not a victory. Puccini's untimely death ensured that the finale of this masterpiece is perhaps, for us today, an even greater anguish than the composer might have imagined. Every time I come to Alfano's final bars in this great score – while the chorus, in jubilation, sings of "infinita felicità" ("endless happiness") – I feel the sum of the defeats that have gathered among these lines, which fail to be as enthusiastic as they should be. I think of Puccini dying in Brussels and never returning from his final journey, I think of the frustration of Toscanini, who did not know what to do with his friend's unfinished work, I think of Alfano, who remains crushed by an impossible comparison, and I feel such a bitter aftertaste at that final apotheosis that I am overwhelmed.