On the other side of the pond
Since 2006 our production of Turandot, inspired by the myth of China's Hmong minority, which tells how all creatures, including humans, are descended from a Butterfly mother, has played regularly in the Volksoper Wien repertoire.
In 2009 a consortium of five US companies led by the Minnesota Opera asked us to create a new production. The mandate was to create a Chinese-inspired grand spectacle, but we wanted to ensure that the spectacle remained in service of what made the opera pertinent in the first place.
When we studied again the score we saw a pattern of numbers, and so decided, in working out this production, to incorporate some of the ancient Chinese traditions surrounding the symbolism of shapes and numbers that are still so influential, and that Puccini apparently recognized as well.
The circular motif prevalent in the sets & costumes captures the idea of transformation through the cyclical journey of life and death. The motif is also a constant reminder of the presence of the gong that has brought death to so many of Turandot's suitors—a burden that she carries symbolically inside the sleeves of her royal garment.
As the score so graphically directs, Calaf strikes the gong three times, a significant number in Chinese numerology that represents heaven, earth, and man as well as the three stages of a man's life: birth, marriage, and death, (Ping, Pong, & Pang).
The number six in Mandarin is pronounced as 'liu' and represents blessings and happiness, and is therefore considered auspicious. The number eight is associated with prosperity and fortune. As such, the eight scholars pronounce Calaf's good fortune when he answers Turandot's riddles correctly.
For all the characters it is their humanity and personal growth that is most important. It is, after all, the point of life, and of all fairy-tales.
Our two Turandot are extremely different, and while it is unusual for directors & designers to be given the opportunity to mount two separate productions of the same work within a few years, there is never only one way of doing things. The experience has even led us to conceive other ideas for presenting this fantastic opera.