Monday, May 21, 2018

Variations on a Theme from Turandot, by Ada Hoffmann

Publication logo
[Strange Horizons]
★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

(Modern Fantasy Metafiction) The soprano playing Liù keeps trying to change the opera’s gruesome plot, starting with her own death scene. (7,264 words; Time: 24m)

This story will be incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t at least read a synopsis of the opera “Turandot,” by Puccini.

"," by (edited by Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde), appeared in issue 05/14/18, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Background: Background: “I’ve come to marry the princess.”

Even in 1926, “Turandot” was controversial from the start, as Puccini himself had died two years earlier feeling it unfinished (i.e. even he didn’t find the ending believable). The princess is a monster—a mass murderer of innocents, who never gives us any reason to believe she’s not a psychopath. The prince looks like an idiot for wanting her. Further, if he beats her by solving her riddles, he’d be forcing himself on her, and even by the standards of 1926 that would make him unheroic, if not something of a monster himself. So after solving her riddles, he offers to die if the princess can find out his name before dawn, which leads to her torturing his father’s servant Liù to get it out of her. In the opera, at the end, he gives the princess his name freely, putting his life in her hands, and she decides to marry him after all. (A turn of events no one found believable.) Operas don’t stand and fall on believability, of course, but this has bothered a lot of people for almost a hundred years.

Puccini had a servant named “Doria” on whom the character Liù is supposed to be based. Doria committed suicide after Puccini’s wife accused her of having sex with her master, so the scene with Liù and the dying Puccini is poignant.

Finally, do listen to Pavoratti sing the famous “Nessun Dorma” from this opera.

Pro: As we eventually learn, the story begins in a world where Puccini really did finish the opera, although we never know how it ended, other than that “beautiful women” die. Liù changes history when she pulls the idea of love out his heart, causing him to die without finishing the play. That’s the only way she can achieve her real goal: not to die in the opera.

The final scene with Liù and the princess seems to explain the ending of the opera by suggesting that the princess and Liù exchanged spirits. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” the spirit that called itself Lo-u-Ling told us. And in the final scene, we find the Princess greeting the Prince as Liù would have, while Lo-u-Ling’s spirit watches from a body that no longer calls itself Liù.

Con: The heavy dependence on Turandot makes this story inaccessible to most readers.

The segments in the real world puncture suspension of disbelief. The idea that one singer can change the flow of an opera (other than destructively) keept popping me out of the story. That also made it hard for me to make any emotional connection with any of the characters.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 05/14/18)
Ada Hoffmann Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

Follow RSR on Twitter, Facebook, RSS, or E-mail.

1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I've never seen or listened to Turandot and I found the story quite accessible - the character of the underlying opera could be discerned from the story, and the characters' moral choices didn't depend on the details of the opera plot for their resonance.