Turandot Without the T

Today’s Puccini’s 150th birthday. To commemorate the occasion NPR’s Performance Today had an interview with noted Puccini expert Fred Plotkin. During its course Plotkin followed the now conventional practice of pronouncing Puccini’s last opera with its final t articulated. While this practice is pretty small beans in the course of human events it’s pedantic and based on how the name was pronounced before Puccini got to it rather than on how he wanted it pronounced.

Listen to this excerpt from the first complete recording of Turandot in 1938, just 12 years after the opera’s premiere. Note the absence of a final consonant. Patrick Vincent Casali has written a long article  (Opera Quarterly 13 (4): 77–91, 1997) detailing Puccini’s intention that his opera be pronounced Turando[t]. Here’s a 1962 interview with the Met’s John Gutman and Rosa Raisa the first Turandot:

GUTMAN: In addition to being the very first Turandot, I know,
Mme Raisa, that you appeared in other world premieres and several
American premieres. Would you tell our audience, please, what some
of those premieres were?
RAISA: My pleasure, Mr. Gutman. In addition to Turando[t], which
is pronounced the way I pronounce it and also [the way] it was
pronounced by Puccini and Toscanini, so, [therefore] it is really
“Turando[t],” not Turandot!”
GUTMAN: [taken aback] Thank you very much, Mme Raisa. This
interests me very much. I know that this has been a controversy for a
long time and . . . ah, we certainly take your word for it, since you were
the original Turando[t].
RAISA: Thank you.

Here’s another with Robert Lloyd and Dame Eva Turner a famous Turandot who was at the opera’s first performance.

LLOYD: Dame Eva, there’s one little problem we have to solve before
we can have this conversation.
TURNER: Yes?
LLOYD: I’ve noticed that you say Turando[t].”
TURNER: Yes.
LLOYD: And I say “Turandot.” Can you explain why?
TURNER: Yes. Well, because in my day it was always “Turando[t].” And
you see, I was at the first performance that Toscanini conducted, and
[pause] it was “Turando[t].” And whenever [sic] I sang it for the first
time, or whenever I sang it, I say “Turando[t].” And, I think I have to
confess, I like it. More especially when it involves a musical line, to
keep the continuity going. It isn’t quite so chopped. But of course, it
isn’t quite so Chinese [laughs].

This mispronunciation seems to be the fault of Erich Leinsdorf who inserted it into his 1960 recording of the opera. Its now tradition to use it. But remember Toscanini’s definition of tradition: Yesterday’s mistake. And he should know – he was there.

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7 Responses to Turandot Without the T

  1. […] I can’t resist revisiting the pronunciation wars. Racette was dotting the final t in Turandot like a gatling gun – dot.com, dot.org, […]

  2. Jon Freeman says:

    Yet another word about the pronunciation of Turandot, when the Met re-broadcast the Raisa interview with John Gutman, they deleted her reference to the way it was pronounced by Puccini, Toscanini and that of the role’s creator. They should really count for something, but of course the Met knows better.

    I did like Racette’s hostessing much better than the Mesdames Fleming and Graham who sound too grand. Racette sounds like a real person.

    And yes, I did check coats at the Old Met and remember those old performances very well. My mind hasn’t gone yet.

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