Puccini’s “Turandot” is an operatic fixture and one would expect that the work, so popular at the Metropolitan Opera thanks to Franco Zeffirelli’s famed production, would have been around the house for as long as one can remember.
And yet the opera experienced a long hiatus of 30 years before regaining its foothold at the Met. Along the way, some of the world’s great sopranos have come along to conquer what many consider to be the most difficult of soprano roles. From her first entrance in Act 2 until the very last lines of the opera, the title character doesn’t actually sing all that much. But when she does sing, Puccini asks the “15-year-old” character to blast over a massive orchestra, the vocal line stretching up into the soprano stratosphere.
As the Met prepares another major “Turandot” production to open on Oct. 12, 2017, we look at the company’s most famous interpreters of the leading role.
The very first interpreter of the role at the Met, Jeritza sang her first “Turandot” on Nov. 16, 1926 and would go on to dominate the role for the ensuing four years, singing 23 of the first 27 performances of the opera. Her last showcase as Turandot took place on Jan. 8, 1930.
The Swedish superstar holds the record for the most performances of the role at the Met, singing it a whopping 52 times between 1961 and 1970, an average of almost six performances per year. Most astounding of all is that in 1961 alone, she sang the opera 18 times.
She actually revived the work, which had not been performed at the Met since Jeritza stopped singing it at the Met.
Once Nilsson stopped dominating the opera, it was Ross who became the Turandot of the day, singing the opera 16 times over a four-year span.
Things start to get very interesting for the opera in 1987 when Zeffirelli’s new production had its premiere with Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo leading the way. That performance was recorded and remains available on DVD. Since then the opera has held the stage consistently. Marton sang the role only 11 times but remains one of the iconic interpretations, her last one coming on Nov. 22, 1997.
While Marton brought about the new production of the opera, the ensuing years didn’t really belong to her, but to two singers – Ghena Dimitrova and Gwyneth Jones. The former sang her first “Turandot” on Dec. 14, 1987 and would perform it 28 times, her last coming on June 29, 1996.
As for Jones, she got 16 at-bats in the role, singing it for the first time on New Years Day in 1990 and programming it for the next five years. Her last performance of the opera at the Met came on Feb. 18, 1995.
The soprano took on the role for the first time in 1997 and would perform it a total of 15 times, her final take on the Chinese princess coming on Nov. 25, 2000.
Once the new millennium rolled around, “Turandot” became Gruber’s role as the soprano first performed it on Sept. 24, 2002. She would author the role 26 times, her final performance in the opera coming on April 19, 2007.
The Russian diva took on the opera 15 times, starting with a showcase on Halloween 2009. She got an HD performance that same year and then sang it a few more times over the following seasons.