Abstract

Giacomo Puccini was hailed as a national hero at his death in 1924, and again seventeen months later at the posthumous premiere of Turandot. However, close scrutiny of the Turandot reviews reveals complex subtexts underpinning the patriotic encomiums. Of particular concern to the early critics was the opera's eponymous heroine, who seemed symbolic of an emotionally sterile modernism. The implications of the perception of Turandot as a 'machine woman' are considered here against the backdrop of contemporary developments in the Italian avant-garde spoken theatre. as a highly self-interrogatory work, in which Puccini experimented with new approaches to operatic character and dramaturgy, and reflected upon his oeuvre past and present. Turandot and Liù were presented by critics as representing Puccini's late and early compositional manners, leading to concern about an apparent dichotomy in his style that was unwelcome in a final work. Discussions of the two heroines were used to articulate debates about Puccini's compositional sincerity; about changing attitudes towards operatic sentimentality; and about how the challenges posed by modernism were to be confronted within an Italian context.

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