I recently posted an article about Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, that had nothing to say about its title character. The work achieved the renown it currently enjoys (#17 on operabase’s list of most frequently performed operas) largely due to the work of Birgit Nilsson. Before Nilsson first performed the role at the Met in 1961 it had received only 27 performances by the company – none since 1930. Between 1961 and 1970 the great soprano sang the part 52 times at the Met – that’s 52 times out of a total of 222 appearances with the company. The opera was last given by the Met in April of this year – it was Turandot number 327! Nilsson can be said to have been as important to this opera as was Puccini.

She sang the part everywhere. The late soprano viewed it as her money role. It’s short (Turandot doesn’t make a sound in the first act), in great demand, and paid her regular fee. Still, it makes great demands on the soprano who sings the title character. The tessitura is high, amount of sound needed could double as a fog horn, and Turandot has to sing a killer aria as soon as she steps into the box – ‘In questa reggia’, the subject of this post. The words to the aria followed by an English translation are below.

Because Turandot is so indelibly associated with Nilsson, I’ll start with two recordings of the aria sung by her, one from the Met and the second from La Scala. The tenor on both is Franco Corelli who was her most frequent partner in this opera, though Nilsson sang the role with virtually every heavyweight tenor active during her time with Puccini’s cruel and dishonest princess. The piece ends with a fortissimo high C sung by both the soprano and the tenor, though the tenor’s high note is optional in the score. But death and dishonor await the tenor who does not attempt the high note. As we’ll see it’s sometimes fudged.

The first recording is from a Met performance in 1961 under Stokowski’s direction. The second from La Scala three years later. Gavazzeni conducts. In questa reggia Met 1961 In questa reggia La Scala 1964

Joan Sutherland was one of the vocal wonders of the last century. She never sang Turandot onstage, though I’m sure she could have acquitted herself honorably had she been so inclined. Her studio recording of the complete opera shows her at her best. The tenor is Luciano Pavarotti who had this stage of his career was at his peak. In questa reggia Sutherland Pavarotti

When Herbert von Karajan recorded the opera he made what seemed an odd choice for the title role – Katia Ricciarelli. Ricciarelli takes a gentler and subdued approach to the aria, but it works. The tenor is Placido Domingo. In questa reggia Ricciarelli Domingo

Jennifer Wilson is an American soprano who didn’t make her operatic debut until she was 36. She specializes in the dramatic like Turandot. She recorded the complete opera with Andrea Bocelli as Calaf under Zubin Mehta’s direction. The aria seem a whole tone down to my ears, likely to accommodate Bocelli’s limited upper register. Nevertheless, Wilson has the sound and volume needed for the part. In questa reggia Wilson Bocelli



In questa Reggia,
or son mill’anni e mille,
un grido disperato risuonò.
E quel grido
traverso stirpe e stirpe,
qui nell’anima mia si rifugiò!
Principessa Lo-u-Ling,
ava dolce e serena,
che regnavi nel tuo cupo silenzio
in gioia pura,
e sfidasti inflessibile e sicura
l’aspro dominio,
oggi rivivi in me!

Fu quando il Re dei Tartari
le sette sue bandiere dispiegò!

Pure nel tempo che ciascun ricorda,
fu sgomento e terrore e rombo d’armi!
Il regno vinto! il regno vinto!
E Lo-u-Ling, la mia ava,
trascinata da un uomo,
come te, come te, straniero,
là nella notte atroce,
dove si spense la sua fresca voce!

Da secoli ella dorme
nella sua tomba enorme!

O Principi,
che a lunghe carovane
d’ogni parte del mondo
qui venite a gettar la vostra sorte,
io vendico su voi
quella purezza, quel grido
e quella morte!
Mai nessun m’avrà!
L’orror di chi l’uccise
vivo nel cor mi sta!
No, no! Mai nessun m’avrà!
Ah, rinasce in me l’orgoglio
di tanta purità!
Straniero! non tentar la fortuna!
Gli enigmi sono tre,
la morte è una!

No, no! Gli enigmi sono tre,
una è la vita

In this Palace,
thousands of years ago,
a desperate cry rang out.
And that cry,
after many generations,
took shelter in my spirit!
Princess Lo-u-Ling,
sweet, serene ancestress,
who ruled in your dark silence
with pure joy,
and challenged, sure and unyielding,
the harsh mastery of others,
today you live in me again!

It was when the King of the Tartars
unfurled his seven flags!

Still in the time all can recall,
there was alarm, terror, the rumble of arms!
The Kingdom defeated! defeated!
And Lo-u-ling, my ancestress,
dragged off by a man,
like you, like you, stranger,
there in the horrid night,
where her sweet voice was stilled!

She’s slept for centuries
in her huge tomb!

O you princes,
with your long caravans
from every part of the world,
who come her to try your fate,
in you I avenge
that purity, that cry,
and that death!
No one will ever posses me!
The horror of her assassin
is still vivid in my heart!
No, no one will ever possess me!
Ah, in me is reborn the pride
of such purity!
Stranger, do not tempt Fate!
The enigmas are three,
but death is one!

No, no! The enigmas are three,
and life is one!