Tuesday, March 11, 2003


Yesterday saw the long-awaited UK premiere of Luciano Berio’s new finale for Act 3 of ‘Turandot’, Puccini's final opera. Left incomplete at the composer’s death, the work is usually brought to a conclusion by Franco Alfano’s less than adventurous scoring. With the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin the Berio version has another powerful advocate. BBC Radio 3 are allowing listeners to hear the work online for themselves from 1pm today (GMT) until Monday 17 March.

Three other major conductors have tackled Berio’s Act 3: Riccardo Chailly in the Canary Islands and Amsterdam, Kent Nagano in Los Angeles and Valery Gergiev in Salzburg. Gergiev was particularly enthusiastic: “I absolutely endorse it. It ‘s wonderful to have an ending that is musically and dramatically so interesting.”

Truman C. Wang, editor of ‘Classical Voice’, sums up the situation from the perspective of putative sceptics:

“Many may wince at the thought of commissioning an avant-garde modernist to finish the work of a late Romantic melodist. The result, far from sounding incongruous or inartistic, is in my opinion nothing short of brilliant. Side by side, the two Finales resemble only in the vocal contour of the Calaf-Turandot Duet. The Berio version, with its subtle harmonic shifts, tonal ambiguities, and exotic scoring, sounds more akin to Puccini’s vision, despite the nearly 80 years of stylistic chasm separating the two. The constantly shifting major and minor harmonies and hints of atonality not only are in keeping with the rest of the score that Puccini did write, but also nicely mirror the emotional turmoil of the newly de-iced, humanized Princess. Moreover, the reprise of a big aria ‘Nessun dorma’ (transfigured harmonically), absent in the Alfano version, has ample precedents in other Puccini operas, notably ‘E lucevan le stelle’ at the end of ‘Tosca’.” (c) Classical Voice

Berio is without doubt Italy’s finest living composer. But the long-term success of his ‘Turandot’ finale depends on repertory, not simply the backing of major conductors and the critics (though that has been pretty fulsome so far). Hopefully it might also prod a few so-called traditionalists towards his other works.

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