Turandot – Barbara Hendricks

Once upon a time there was a Princess called Turandot and she was a cold hearted bitch. She proclaimed that she would only marry the man who could solve three riddles that she set however the price of failure would be death. Despite Turandot’s cruelty many suitors tried to win her hand and died.

And then Prince Calaf came to her court incognito and fell in love with her. The Prince’s advisers and his serving girl Liu tried to talk him out of declaring himself but the Prince refused to listen. He truly was in love. Perhaps that was why he managed to answer all three riddles correctly, yet despite this Turandot still refused to marry him. The Prince released Turandot from her promise and said that he would be willing to die if she could guess his true name by morning.

Desperate to get the Prince out of her life Turandot and her minions turned the court upside down trying to discover the Prince’s true name. They found that the only person who knew the secret was the Prince’s own serving girl Liu but she refused to betray him. When Turandot asked Liu why she would not speak the serving girl finally admitted that she loved the Prince too much to betray him. Liu was tortured and when she thought she might break she killed herself rather than betray the man she loved.

This is not the end of the story but for me the death of Liu is the climax, at least in a musical sense, of the opera Puccini wrote about Turandot  and the Prince. Whether you love opera or hate it I defy anyone to hear this aria sung by Barbara Hendricks [as Liu] and not be moved by her glorious voice. It is not the kind of voice you may have heard in the past…and hated. Trust me, just for a few  minutes and listen

Puccini died before he could finish the last act so the death of Liu is the last thing he wrote and I believe it is one of the  most beautiful pieces of music ever written. The role of Liu requires a coloratura* soprano voice and Barbara Hendricks has one of the purest yet warmest coloratura voices I have ever heard. Her voice soars to the highest notes with effortless grace and makes dramatic sopranos sound like screeching harpies. I apologise to any true opera buffs out there but most sopranos really do sound awful.

Oh and I should mention that the opera was finished by someone else along the lines of what Puccini intended so the Prince eventually melts Turandot’s heart and they live happily ever after. Hrumph.



* coloratura soprano – is a type of operatic soprano who specializes in music that is distinguished by agile runs and leaps. The term coloratura refers to the elaborate ornamentation of a melody, which is a typical component of the music written for this voice. [wiki]




About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

8 responses to “Turandot – Barbara Hendricks

  • john malone

    it is indeed beautiful but pales in impact alongside perhaps opera’s greatest aria, Nessun Dorma, also from Turandot.


  • Ilil Arbel

    This is my second favorite aria from Turandot and it’s glorious in this performance. I am ashamed to admit that with my vulgar taste I still prefer Nessun dorma… Strangely enough I love it best when sung by Placido Domingo even though he is not my favorite of all time.


    • acflory

      -grin- Nessun Dorma is astounding and was the reason I bought that particular CD in the first place but as I listened to it I discovered Liu’s themes and Barbara Hendricks’ voice and fell head over heels in love!

      I adore Placido Domingo – he truly was the golden tenor. Pavarotti’s high notes were more fluid but the timbre of his voice was never to my taste. Domingo = warm honey… to me 😀


      • Ilil Arbel

        Domingo is glorious — love him — but of the “Three Tenors” my favorite is Jose Carreras. There was somthing about his voice and style which I can’t even describe but was strongly appealing to me. However, Domingo in Turandot was sheer power. He WAS the prince, somehow. Opera (any great music) is hard to put into words. Have you ever read The Glass Bead Game? Perhaps math formulas could express it better…


        • acflory

          I’m really conflicted about Jose Carreras. I think [but I’m not sure] that I saw him in a production of Tosca in Hungary when I was twenty. I was there visiting relatives and my aunt dragged me to the opera where this young spanish tenor literally brought the house down.

          We made him sing “E lucevan le stelle” over ten times. I had never heard such a glorious, soaring tenor singing with such passion and I still love “E lucevan le stelle” more than ‘Nessun Dorma’.

          Then here in Melbourne I was one of the ‘tree people’ listening to the Three Tenors from outside because we couldn’t afford tickets. Compared to Domingo and Pavarotti, Carreras’ voice seemed thin and forced. Now maybe that was because of his throat cancer, I just don’t know. 😦


  • Candy Korman

    This is one of my all-time favorite operas! The evil princess puts it over the edge into a fantasy story PLUS wonderful music.


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