The mandarins announce the emperor's decree in the streets of
Peking: he who solves Princess Turandot's riddles will win her
hand. The crowd is ecstatically waiting for the execution of the
Persian prince who has failed the latest trial - and then, feeling
sympathy, beg for his life. But Turandot refuses to show
In spite of this heartless cruelty a new suitor appears: the
Tartar prince in exile, Calàf. He will not listen to anyone, he
always goes his own way, and now challenges his fate: he enters the
The responsibilities of office and the chore of balancing
various interests and requirements have already exhausted the three
ministers, who are dreaming of a peaceful civilian way of
Turandot presents three riddles to the brave candidate. Calàf
replies to the first two correctly. Then Turandot presents the
"Ice which gives you fire
and which your fire
freezes still more!
Lily-white and dark,
if it allows you your freedom
it makes you a slave;
if it accepts you as a slave
it makes you a King!"
Calàf's reply is correct: "Turandot".
But the way to find the other one can only be right if it
departs from the beaten track. The smallest of deceits,
self-delusion or dishonesty leads us on a wild goose chase. Thus,
Calàf is dissatisfied with his rapid success, and now it is his
turn to ask a question from Turandot: "Tell me my name - Who am I?"
All Peking is trying to discover the stranger's name, when the
slave girl Liù appears, who refuses to reveal her master's name in
spite of torture. Her determination is fuelled by love, and this
hopeless emotion drives her to suicide. Liù's death creates a
situation where there is no place for pretence - the mask should
fall, and the actor must reveal himself. Before resurrection one
must be destroyed so that we can be born again like a phoenix from
the ashes. It could even be called love.