Reincarnated Originals of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot

In the premiere version of Turandot, performed on 25th April 1926 at Milan, the opera has three acts as composed by Giacomo Puccini on a libretto by Renato Simoni and Giuseppe Adami. During that premiere performance, the music was exclusively that of Puccini, as completed without additions by Franco Alfano and conducted by Ettore Panizza. Experts believe that Puccini’s initial interest of composing the opera was prompted by an adaptation by Friedrich Schiller’s. His opera however, was mostly based on Carlo Gozzi’s earlier text on Turandot. The original name Turandot was Persian, used to mean “a daughter of Turan”. Turan was a Central Asia region once ruled by the Persian Empire. The genesis of Turandot’s tale was in a Persian fables collection called The Book of One Thousand and One Days. In the collection, the character named Turandokht is a Chinese princess.

Giacomo Puccini began composing the opera in the month of March, 1920. He agreed with the librettists Giuseppe and Renato to begin the composition on January 1921. It took three years to compose the work, finishing the last duet on March 1924. Though advanced in age, with health concerns to boot, Puccini insisted on a heavily poetic libretto and therefore felt unsatisfied with that final duet, especially with its text. The duet would take until October 8, when he accepted Giuseppe’s fourth revision of the text in the final duet. The opera was set for production any time hence. Two days later however, Puccini was diagnosed with throat cancer which took him to Brussels, Belgium, for treatment on 24th November 1924. While there, a new experimental radiation therapy was performed on the throat, which developed complications thereafter. He died on 29th November 1924.

The originals of Turandot that Giacomo Puccini left behind were in a 36-paged sketch book, 23 of the sheets being full of his sketches. Puccini had expressly instructed Riccardo Zandonai to finish the opera but Puccini’s son, Tonio, defiantly objected. It was Franco Alfano, a former student of Puccini, who would eventually be chosen to tie the sketches together under the guidance of Vincenzo Tommasini. The experience and skill of Vincenzo Tommasini was dependable, following his successful completion of Boito’s Nerone after the synonymous composer’s death. After a while however, both Vincenzo Tommasini and Pietro Mascagni had to go and Alfano was given the job.

At that time, Alfano had gained a considerably good repute with his opera La leggenda di Sakùntala. One strong point for his being chosen was that the opera greatly resembled Turandot both in its setting and accompanying heavy orchestration. It was Alfano therefore, who provided the first version of Turandot, ending it with several additional passages of his own. A limitation of that first version was that Alfano had actually added some of the sentences in the libretto which had been rejected by Puccini himself. This earned Alfano a severe criticism from Ricordi, the editor and Arturo Toscanini, the conductor.

Alfano went back to the opera’s originals and wrote a second version that was strictly censored. This version followed closely on Puccini’s sketches, so closely that Alfano didn’t even set some basic texts for Adami’s music since Puccini hadn’t indicated the sounding on the opera’s originals. In the final release of Turandot, Ricordi played a great role in reincarnating the original texts, simply because he insisted on adherence to the sketches. Ricordi’s main concern was not Alfano’s contribution but giving the opera a final sound that attested to the fact that it was Giacomo Puccini’s. That version had lost three minutes during the performance as Toscanini sealed the gaps.

Up to today, it is that shortened version of the opera that is performed. It was actually the one conducted by Toscanini during the Milan premiere on the Sunday of 25th April 1926, exactly a year and five months after Giacomo Puccini’s death. The music died off at the mid of the third Act, at exactly two measures following the words “Liù, poesia!” There the orchestra rested, Toscanini laid down the baton, turned to the audience and before the curtained lowered, he sadly announced, “Qui finisce l’opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto” meaning, “Here the opera ends, since at this very point, the maestro died”.

Toscanini never conducted Turandot again and it was Ettore Panizza who took over in subsequent performances. During this performances, Alfano’s infamous ending was included as well as the music upon Liù’s death, which was not in any way in the opera’s original as composed by Puccini. Ricordi’s firm hand however prevented the original scripts from being orchestrated so far out of proportion as compared to the original composition of Puccini’s last opera. The proof of his signature in the opera is replete with climaxes harmoniously blending with choruses and a full pageantry.


Pulp Fiction Music Up close

The soundtrack in Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough film ‘Pulp Fiction’ stands out as among the finest soundtracks ever devised. It combined some great renowned songs that had once been hits with other tracks that were new, obscure, and vibrantly enticing. The mix became an instant hit and remained popular for years after the movie was released.

Pulp Fiction 20th Anniversary

Pulp Fiction Poster (Drawing)

The motion picture ‘Pulp Fiction’ had a creative mix of rock and roll, American fashion juxtaposed between surf music, classic soul and pop. The Pulp Fiction music was unconventionally creative, innovative, and adventurous. The Pulp Fiction title song especially has a blend of almost every known genre of music, including rap and heavy metal, for short instances during the play duration. Even the soundtrack was equally liberal and untraditional. It for instance consisted of nine songs, also used in the movie, and four distinct tracks of audible dialogue snippets. On top of that rare mix, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack also included a song and three different tracks of pure dialogue.


The popularity of the Pulp Fiction Soundtracks 2002 album saw it reach position Continue reading


Grease Music From Broadway to Silver Screen

The original Grease title song for the 1978 motion picture was sung by Frankie Valli in combination with John Travolta who was at his musical prime.

This included the two most successful songs; ‘You’re the One That I Want’ and the Grease title song, ‘Grease’, both of which made it to number one on the billboards. The other song nominated for the Academy Awards was ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. When the album with these songs was released in the summer of 1978, the Grease soundtrack album immediately hit the top of the US charts replacing The Rolling Stones hit, ‘Some Girls’. Within three years of its release, the album sold over 28 million units worldwide.

Grease Music From Broadway

Grease Music From Broadway

The 1950’s performances of the Grease musical provided a momentum from which the film was to take off from. Even before the release, the film was a popular topic of discourse, with people guessing how effective the film could recapture the musical artistry of the Broadway release. John Travolta in Danny Zuko’s role did not disappoint, just as he had not in the successful ‘Travolta in Saturday Night Fever’. Frankie Valli sung the amazing Grease title song, written by Barry Gibb.

The famous ‘Sha Na Na’ song made the Grease soundtrack as much fun as the story line, with actress Stockard Channing stretching her versatility to the max. The Grease title song has become a magnificent touchstone of American pop culture. Basically, the national funk of the time in USA had a lot to do with the Grease songs’ success as a title song and as an album. There was a general yearning at the time for a music genre with more fun than soul, less agitated than jazz, simpler than the classics, and more complicated than rock. To achieve this, the Grease sound track stylishly blended the music of the 50’s music, the disco sensibilities of the 70’s, the late 70’s non-disco pop, and other songs that had never held a stage within the confines of a motion picture.

Among the most prominent songs in the film include (arranged in the order that they appeared in the film) ‘Summer Nights’ by Pink Ladies, ‘Sandy and the T-Birds’, ‘Look at Me’, and ‘I’m Sandra Dee’, by Rizzo and the Pink Ladies, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ by Sandy, ‘Greased Lightning’  by Danny and the T-Birds,  ‘Alone at the Drive-in Movie’, an instrumental, ‘Beauty School Dropout’ by Frankie Avalon,  ‘Rock n’ Roll is Here to Stay’ by Johnny,  ‘Those Magic Changes’ by Johnny and Danny, ‘Tears on My Pillow’ by Bradford and A. Lewis,  ‘Hound Dog’ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ‘Mooning’ by Jan and Roger,  ‘Sandy’ by Louis St. Louis and Scott J. Simon, and ‘Born to Hand Jive’ by Johnny and the cast.

Some other two great inclusions to the Grease songs were ‘La Bamba’ by Richie Valens, and ‘Whole Lotta Shaking Going On’ by Jerry L. Lewis which in the movie are both played by the juke box at Frosties. The Grease soundtrack was performed and recorded by Olivia Newton-John and released as an album in 1978 by Louis St. Louis records.

In its arrangement, the Grease soundtrack orders the songs by frontloading the theme song followed by several singles just in the initial section of the film. For instance, following the brief song ‘Love Is A Many Splendored Thing’, the film introduces the Grease title song. The singer, Frankie Avalon, helps achieve a catchy disco-like but less intense rhythm, a melodious harmony of the 50’s slow music and the pop of the 70’s.

On her part, Stockard Channing, in the song ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’, makes a danceable melody as she makes fun of Sandy. She makes the song reflect upon the late 50’s dance movements. When it comes to instruments, Grease songs have a perfect match. A good example is the pop ballad ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ that was specifically tailor-made for Olivia Newton-John. This ballad alternates steel guitars borrowed from rock, and when you think you got the rhythm right, the tender guitar strings take the airwaves and back again.

Grease soundtracks have predominantly male voices though, the most notable being ‘Summer Nights’, the beginning duet shared by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Interestingly, the duet also features some members of the cast at the backstage origins. Again, ‘Danny’s fateful summer’ has a musical tradeoff between Travolta and Olivia, with backup voices coming in with gender distinction, such that Travolta’s part has male backups while Olivia’s segments have female backups. Another perfectly blended multi-genre song is ‘Rock And Roll Party Queen’ which is briefly heard during the dance segment where people begin pouring into the decorated gym.


Giuseppe Verdi’s Opera Signature in Nabucco

Verdi mastered the art of opera perhaps better than any other composer has in history. Nabucco was actually his third opera and one that experts regard as his stepping stone to world popularity. The success of this third opera elevated and permanently solidified his reputation as a master composer. Before that, he had already composed Luisa Miller and Ernani, with a relatively good reception.

The premiere performance of the opera was in Teatro alla Scala, Milan on 9th March, 1842. At this performance, the opera carried its original name of Nabucodonosor, before it was translated to English, Nebuchadnezzar, in subsequent revision. Actually, the first time the English name was used was during the performance at San Giacomo Theatre of Corfu on September 1844. Most of the numbers in the opera lacked the encores that have been added in modern performances. Especially renown is the number ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ and ‘Fly, Thought, On Golden Wings’, today made even more beautiful by additional encores.

Teatro alla Scala - Milan

Teatro alla Scala - Milan

Such flexible compositions are notable with most of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas. Another key feature of Nabucco, which is repeatedly used by many of Verdi’s opera, is the soprano role with a downfall vocal of several singers. This is notable in the role of Abigaille in Nabucco. It was Anita Cerquetti and Elena Souliotis who sang this role very poorly during some performances before Maria Callas took it for three consecutive performances. But the real exponents of the role in the period 1941 to 2005 have been both Jadranka Jovanovic and Ghena Dimitrova.

The name Nabucco is short form for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. Giuseppe Verdi used Temistocle Solera’s Italian libretto to compose a four-act opera basing it on a Biblical account of the king’s dynasty. The opera’s story line traces the documented plight of Jews after they were assaulted by King Nebuchadnezzar and consequently exiled to Babylon from their beloved homeland. He also based the opera on a creative play written by Francis Cornu and Anicet-Bourgeois.

The Italian opera was actually composed in 1841 and revised in 1842, just before the premiere performance of 9th March 1842 in Milan, Italy. The entire setting of the opera is in both Jerusalem and Babylon during the 6th Century BC. The lyric drama has four distinct parts in its original and revised version. Verdi composed the opera with a the following set of characters; Nabucco, the King of Babylon in baritone, Abigaille, the former slave and the purported daughter of Nabucco in soprano, Fenena, the daughter of Nabucco also in soprano, Ismaele, the Nephew of the King of Jerusalem in tenor, Zaccaria, the High Priest of Jerusalem in bass and the High Priest of Babylon also in bass.

Being a Verdi’s opera, Nabucco is not very famous in modern times. It is not performed as frequently as his other operas. Nevertheless, it is still a respected opera around the world, having been roosted on the Metropolitan Opera since its first performance there in 1960.
The opera is also a regular at the Arena di Verona opera house, up to today, having been performed there in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008. Besides these two, Nabucco is a regular opera in La Scala, Opera Australia, Vienna Sate Opera, Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice, Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, San Francisco Opera, Tokyo New National Theatre, Teatro Regio di Parma, Sarasota Opera, London’s Royal Opera House, and Austria’s St. Margarethen Opera Festival among many other opera companies in the world.

The most attractive thing about the opera is its signature of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera. Verdi is quoted to have said of Nabucco, “This is opera remains the one with which my artistic career in opera really begins. And although I have had very many difficulties to fight against before it was born and nurtured, it is now certain that Nabucco was conceived under a lucky star”. It is therefore not surprising that the opera became an instant hit, gaining phenomenal success in its premiere performances across the world. It totally outdid any of the operas by Donizetti and Giovanni Puccini, during that time. The public simply went high with enthusiasm and support as the fiercest of critics stamped their earnest approval.

Giuseppe Verdi wrote twenty-nine operas including the revisions to some operas. By the time he retired from the theatre, he had dominated the headlines as a grandmaster of opera. Among those operas, the most cerebrated were, I Lombardi Alla Prima Crociata, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Luisa Miller, Otello, Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra, Ernani, Falstaff, La forza del destino, Don Carlos and Aida. It was Nabucco however, that as he says, cemented his success in opera. The lessons he learnt during its composition and performance, reverberate in all the twenty six operas written after Nabucco.