This is the third version of Turandot I bought, and I would like to make a comparison with the other Turandot's (the 1987 MET Turandot and the Forbidden City version).
In terms of vocal performances, this one is perhaps the best in the three. Eva Marton was in her early 40's and the timber of her voice at the peak. She overshadowed Carreras in this DVD. In the MET version, with she passing her peak, Domingo and she are at par. The forbidden city vocal performance is undoubtedly the worst, unfortunately.
In terms of the artistic description of Peking (or Beijing) and the Chinese court, this DVD is the worst, and the Forbidden City one is the best, due to the excellent setting by Zhang Yimou. Zhang was also the director of the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Puccini's story has its origin in 1001 Nights (or Arabian Nights). But he made so many changes to the original story, the Opera should be considered as his own. I will do a bit of "historical" study of his opera, in the fashion of some one annotating the imaginary Shelock Holmes.
The story should be happening between 1368 to 1644, the time period of the Chinese Ming dynasty. Why? because only the Yuan (Mongol empire), Ming and Qing(Machurian) dynasties have Peking as their capitals, and two of these dyansties are established by babarians themselves. In the Forbidden City version, Zhang got it right. This DVD, on the other hand, mixed Machurian costumes with Ming-Song dresses and Italian masks (Yes, with a reason). The stage is set at a completely wrong time. Only a Ming princess can swear to revenge a Chinese princess in ancient times.
Who could be Princess Lou Lin? Well,since Turandot's ancestress lived "thousands of years ago", we can only guess. In China's 5000 years history, it was only totally defeated twice. But Puccini was writing the opera in China's Qing dynasty, and the Mongol empire stayed in China for only 90 years and was immediately before Ming. I can only guess that Puccini mixed up China's history a bit. China's Han dynasty was "thousands years" before Ming, and the royal family name is Liu or Lou. But the dynasty, like Rome of its time, was the invader instead of the invaded. However, here is the catch. After Han declined, the next weaker Jin Dynasty's capital was once raid by the Huns, and the emperess fell into the hand of the Hun king. Could she be the prototyped Lou Lin? Well, if so, then the historical Lou Lin was wed to the Hung King but she did not die. Little is known what happened to her later, for the Hun's kingdom was vanquished in a decade.
Where is Honan, Chiang, and Kiu?
Honan: the modern Chinese Hunan. In the U.S., there are many Hunan restaurants. The beautiful province where Chairman Mao was born. The province is famous for its bamboos, lakes and rivers. Puccini got it right.
Chiang: not sure. Could be Chiang Hsu, or modern Jiangsu. This is one of the places considered as secular "paradises". It is culturally advanced, and very beautiful.
It could be "Chiang Nan", or modern Jiang su and Zhe Jiang provinces put together. In ancient history, Chiang Nan, the vast land near modern Shanghai, is the dreamed place to live for scholars. Nice weather, beautiful lakes, trees and women...
Kiu: most difficult to guess. From the sound, it could be modern Suzhou, a city like Venice in Jiangsu province, with many canals and bridges.
The emperor is claimed to be the heir of Hien-Wang. But who is Hien-Wang?
My guess is that Puccini, in making the story exotically Chinese, made a mistake.
One of the many titles of Confucius (the "great Kong-tze" in Turandot, the term appeared when the Persian prince was executed) is "All Accomplishing, Holiest, Most Cultivated, Grandest King". In Chinese, "Grandest King" has the sound similar to "Hien (Grandest) Wang (King)".
But the descendents of Confucius have never become emperors. Puccini has put some Persian belief that the Prophet's descendants should be rulers into Chinese thougts. The Chinese never believed in that.
Finally, what is "Pu-Ting-Pao"?
I know it is supposed to be the Chinese words for executioner, but I never made out what are the three words Puccini is referring to.
The Chinese words for excecutioner are Kuai-Zhi-Shou (Exceution-'s-Personnel), or Dao-Fu-Shou (Knief-Chopper-Personnel), and we have used them for thousands of years. "Pu-Ting-Pao" sounds like neither of them. Am I missing something here?
Overall, this DVD is a great asset for a fan like me, although it is undoubtedly the most "foreign" and "non-Chinese" Turandot in a Chinese's eyes. To have a view of the real stage where the play should have happened, I would encourage you to buy the Forbidden City version. Keep in mind, however, that Eva Marton has few peers in playing this character.
Eva is a Hungarian, how funny it is. Her forefathers are the Hun. If she really wants to avenge for herself, she is definitely on the wrong side in the opera. The Huns and Han Chinese were in the same coalition about 6000 years ago. Overtime, the Huns moved to the North, or the central Asian steppes and had 2000 years of warfare with China. During the Han dynasty, the Hun Empire was conquered, and only five tribes in the empire fled to Europe like the Trojans. (The last great battle between Han and Hun happened about 80 years before the Huns appeared in East Europe). The rest was bought into the Chinese empire as a conquered people. After hundreds of years, the Han dynasty collapsed. The Huns rebelled against the Jin dynasty. At this time, the Hun king has taken on the Han royal family name (Liu or Lou) and even named their kindgom "Han", and King Liu Cong of the Huns got Jin's "Lou Lin" as wife. Given Puccini had some many Liu (Lou) in his opera, I believe he must have a bit of Han dynasty related history on his mind.