Carlo Gozzi's play Turandot first appeared in 1762. It was originally written to be performed in the small theatre of San Samuele in Venice, and was deliberately written in the Commedia dell'arte style as a reaction to the more modern, realistic plays of Goldoni and others.
Schiller made an adapted translation of Turandot which was published in 1802.Weber wrote his Incidental music for Turandot, Op. 37, for a production of this play. It was composed in 1809 and included the earlier Overtura cinese/Chinese Overture, which he had composed on a Chinese theme in 1805. Busoni thought that between them Schiller and Weber had ruined a masterpiece of Italian literature.
Incidental music and orchestral suite
Gozzi's Turandot - in one form or another - occupied Busoni at various times between the years 1904-1917. He was very fond of fantastical and magical tales: his immediately preceding work was the Piano Concerto Op. 39 BV247, which included music from an unfinished adaptation of Oehlenschlager's Aladdin. In 1904 Busoni began sketching incidental music for Gozzi's Chinese fable. He also arranged a concert suite, which was first performed in 1905 and published in 1906. A production of Gozzi's play with Busoni's music was mounted by Max Reinhardt in Berlin in 1911, and for the second and last time in London in 1913. For more information on the composition of the incidental music and the suite, and the productions of the play with Busoni's music, see the article on the Turandot Suite.
Composition of the opera
After the outbreak of hostilities at the beginning of World War I, Busoni, as an Italian, found it increasingly difficult to stay in Berlin and eventually moved to neutral Zurich where he did not have to take sides. Between late 1915 and August 1916 he was occupied with writing his one-act opera Arlecchino, but the Stadttheater in Zurich was unwilling to mount a production without a companion piece. He swiftly wrote a libretto in German based on Gozzi's original and adapted his Turandot incidental music into a short two-act opera with some spoken dialogue. Busoni wrote to Egon Petri on 9 November 1916:
The important question as to which piece should be coupled with the hour-long Arlecchino so as to fill an evening, my resultant difficulties and the desire to establish such a programme in a durably valid form have led me to the hasty decision to form an opera in 2 acts out of the material and substance of Turandot. For a few weeks now I have been hard at work on this delightful task, writing the libretto and music for a Turandot opera. I am re-writing the text completely and independently, and bringing it closer in tone to a pantomime or stage play. It is a more arduous task than I had initially assumed, but it is coming easily to me. The masque-figures common to both pieces serve to link them (although they otherwise contrast completely with each other).
Busoni completed the opera Turandot in double-quick time (300 pages in 100 days) in late 1916, and it was first performed with Arlecchino as a double bill - Busoni conducting - in Zurich in 1917. Dent mentions how pleased Busoni was with his own workmanship.
There are various oddities in Busoni's libretto which recall the play's Commedia dell'arte roots: characters with Italian names like Truffaldino and Pantalone; Allah is praised in China; and there are references to Venice, St. Mark's, and gondolas. The spoken dialogue harks back to Mozart's operas, especially The Magic Flute. In comparison to Puccini's somewhat epically overblown opera on the same subject, Busoni the aesthete retains the intimate, unreal atmosphere of Gozzi's play. Busoni's princess Turandot is not quite so implacable; her heart is readier to melt.
Re-using some of the material he had composed for the opera, Busoni again revised the orchestral Turandot Suite in 1917, replacing the Funeral March of the last movement with Altoum's Warning, BV 248b. Busoni also separately published Altoums Gebet from Act 2 (newly written for the opera) as Altoum's Prayer, BV 277 op. 49 no. 1 for baritone and small orchestra.
Performance history of the opera
The premiere performance of Busoni's Turandot was on 11 May 1917 at the Stadttheater, Zürich. The producer was Hans Rogorsch, and the designer, Albert Isler. Busoni's one-act opera, Arlecchino, was also performed on the program as part of a double-bill.Turandot and Arlecchino were first performed in Germany on 20 October 1918 in Frankfurt with Gustav Brecher as the conductor, and again beginning on 26 January 1919 at the Cologne opera, conducted by Otto Klemperer who had recently been appointed as "First Conductor." The two operas were performed in Berlin on 19 May 1921 at the Berliner Staatsoper under the firm baton of the Wagnerian conductor Leo Blech, with considerable success. The first performance in Italy (without Arlecchino) was on 29 November 1936 in Rome, conducted by Fernando Previtali. Previtali, a Busoni champion, went on to conduct performances in other Italian cities and conducted the premiere of the opera at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1964. The first performance in England was in London on 19 August 1966, in an English translation by Lionel Salter. The performance was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. The American premiere was a concert performance on 10 October 1967 in New York's Philharmonic Hall, followed by a semi-staged version on 28 January 1980 at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California, conducted by the 28-year-old Kent Nagano; a fully staged performance was given on 15 November 1986 by the Connecticut Grand Opera in Stamford with Gregory Stapp as Emperor Altoum, Juan Luque Carmona as Calaf, and Patricia Craig in the title role.
Poster for the premiere of Turandot.
Premiere Cast, 11 May 1917 
(Conductor: Ferruccio Busoni)
Busoni greatly simplified Gozzi's 5-act play into an opera of two acts of two scenes each.
In the first scene Kalaf comes upon the picture discarded by an earlier executed suitor, and determines to win Turandot.
In the second scene Altoum the emperor complains of Turandot's intransigence. The Prince (Kalaf) says he would rather die than fail to win Turandot. Turandot enters with her maid Adelma who recognises the Prince, but remains silent The Prince correctly answers the three riddles, and challenges Turandot to discover his name and parentage; if she does so, he will depart.
Act 2 scene 1 begins with a version of Greensleeves. Turandot confesses her mixed feelings for the Prince. Adelma says she knows the Prince's name, and will tell Turandot if she can have her freedom; Turandot agrees.
Act 2 scene 2. Turandot announces Kalaf's name to general consternation, and he makes ready to depart. But Turandot stops him, saying he has awakened her heart. The work closes with a final ensemble 'Was ist das alle Menschen bindet?' to which is the reply 'Die Liebe'.
Principal singers: René Pape (Altoum); Linda Plech (Turandot); Gabriele Schreckenbach (Adelma); Josef Protschka (Kalaf); Friedrich Molsberger (Barak); Celina Lindsley (Queen Mother); Robert Wörle (Truffaldino); Johannes Werner Prein (Pantalone); Gotthold Schwarz (Tartaglia)
Puccini had heard about the 1911 Max Reinhardt production of Gozzi's play with Busoni's incidental music, and this may have played a role in his decision to write his own version. Andrea Maffei (who also wrote the libretto for Verdi's I Masnadieri) had translated his friend Schiller's version of Gozzi's play back into Italian. The librettists for Puccini's Turandot, Adami & Simoni, used Maffei's translation, but also turned to Gozzi's original. In addition they made reference to the libretto by Gazzoletti for a little-known opera Turanda by Antonio Bazzini, who had been one of Puccini's teachers at the Milan Conservatory. As a result the libretto for Puccini's opera differs considerably from Gozzi's play. Ashbrook and Powers note that several skillful changes in the 'falling action' of the plot (Busoni's Act 2) enabled Busoni to avoid the pitfalls which plagued Puccini's attempt to set Act 3 of his version of the story.
The information in this list is from Roberge, unless otherwise noted.
11 May 1917; Zürich; Stadttheater; Ferruccio Busoni, conductor; Inez Encke, Turandot; August Richter, Kalaf; Laurenz Saeger-Pieroth, Altoum; premiere; double-bill with Arlecchino; see above for more detail.
1930;Königsberg; Ludwig, conductor; no further details.
4 October 1930;Mannheim; Nationaltheater Mannheim; Ernst Cremer, conductor; Else Schulz, Turandot; Helmut Neugebauer, Kalaf; Wilhelm Fenton, Altoum.
29 November 1936;Rome; Auditorium EIAR; Fernando Previtali, conductor; Gabriella Gatti, Turandot; Piero Pauli, Kalaf; Gregorio Pasetti, Altoum; concert version?; first performance in Italy.
18 May 1940;Florence; Teatro della Pergola; Fernando Previtali, conductor; Maria Carbone, Turandot; Alessandro Ziliani, Kalaf; Alfredo Coletta, Altoum.
7 March 1942; Rome; Teatro Reale del Opera; Fernando Previtali, conductor; Maria Carbone, Turandot; Aurelio Marcato, Kalaf; Giulio Neri, Altoum.
12 January 1947; London (broadcast?); Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk; Philip Jarnach, conductor; Klara Ebers, Turandot; Wilhelm Lückert, Kalaf; Theo Herman, Altoum; first performance in Germany after the war.
28 October 1947;Hamburg; Hamburgische Staatsoper; Arthur Grüber, conductor; Helene Werth, Turandot; Helmut Melchert, Kalaf; Sigmund Roth, Altoum.
21 January 1953; Rome; Auditorium RAI, ; Fernando Previtali, conductor; Magda Laszló, Turandot; Amadeo Berdini, Kalaf; Antonio Cassinelli, Altoum; first performance in Italy after the war.
28 January 1980;Berkeley, California; First Presbyterian Church; Berkeley Promenade Orchestra; Kent Nagano, conductor; Betsy Bell Taylor, Turandot; Jeffrey Carney, Kalaf; William De Valentine, Altoum; semi-staged version; colloquial translation by Ross Halper.
24 April 1980;Trier; Theater der Stadt; Rainer Baum, conductor; Hara Savino, Turandot; Antonis J. Constantino, Kalaf; Nick Herbosch, Altoum; double-bill with Arlecchino.
7 November 1985; Frankfurt am Main; Hessischer Rundfunk (Rundfunk-Konzerte in der alten Oper); Sabine Hass, Turandot; Josef Protschka, Kalaf; Harald Stamm, Altoum; concert version.
^Ronald Stevenson has determined that Busoni saw a famous 16th-century manuscript of Greensleeves by William Ballet during a visit to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1903, and has noted that the song was originally connected with public executions. In a diary entry from 9 October 1910, Busoni refers to Turandot as "the lady with the green sleeves," and the cover design for the original publication of the orchestral score of the Suite depicts Turandot in a costume with green sleeves (Beaumont, 1985, p. 82). The song was also associated with Anne Boleyn's initial rejection of Henry VIII's sexual advances (see Greensleeves).
Kindermann, Jürgen (1980). Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Ferruccio B. Busoni. Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. 19. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag. ISBN 3764920335.
Ley, Rosamond, translator (1938). Ferruccio Busoni: Letters to His Wife. London: Edward Arnold & Co.