Dr. Shonda Lackey

Licensed Psychologist & Script Consultant in NYC | Helping Cultivate the Art of Introspection | 646.926.2198

Turandot: Lessons in Love

Last night at The Metropolitan Opera, I saw Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.  It’s a good example of how trauma can lead people to sabotage their relationships. But this opera also portrays how love can be possible once you allow yourself to feel.

Often, people who have been traumatized close themselves off physically and emotionally to avoid the risk of being hurt again. This may be a good technique to keep dangerous people out of your life. However, closing yourself off may also keep you from building relationships with people who will enrich your life.

Turandot, staged with magnificent sets and costumes, begins with a villager’s announcement.  A prince who wants to marry Peking’s Princess Turandot must provide answers to three riddles or face death. The Prince of Persia is the latest in a string of suitors who have failed. Like the princes before him, he will be executed.

A new suitor, Calàf, makes it known he wants to pursue Turandot. Turandot reveals the reasons behind her rage towards men.  She tells the story of her relative, Lou-Ling who was killed by a prince during his pursuit of her. After Lou-Ling’s death, Turandot resolved never to let a man conquer her.

While trying to protect herself from being possessed, Turandot sabotages her chance of finding love. By demanding her suitors to answer riddles correctly or face death, she has created a situation that will likely keep her alone.

At the emperor’s throne, Calàf persists as Turandot begins the riddles. “What is born each night and dies at dawn?” she asks. Calàf correctly responds, “hope.” Next, Turandot wants to know “What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not a flame?” Again, Calàf answers correctly, “blood.” Finally, Turandot asks, “What is like ice but burns?” Calàf correctly answers, “Turandot.”

In disbelief, Turandot asks that her father put a stop to the marriage. Giving her a way out, Calàf tells Turandot that if she’s able to find out his name by the morning, he will be prepared to die.  He sings “Nessun Dorma,” as no one will rest until Turandot finds out  his name.

Liù, a former servant who remains loyal to Calàf, is tortured by Turandot’s soldiers to reveal the name. Liù doesn’t give in. Turandot is intrigued and asks how she has held out so long. “Love,” Liù answers. She tells Turandot that she will also experience love and then suddenly stabs herself to death to keep her secret. This is a pivotal point that prompts Turandot to think about changing the way she interacts with suitors.

Following Liù’s death, Calàf and Turandot meet. Calàf takes Turandot by surprise when he passionately kisses her. Turandot is overcome with emotion and Calàf tells her his name, knowing Turandot has fallen for him. This is another turning point for Turandot—she is vulnerable.

Turandot doesn’t have much time to get to know Calàf and the kiss alone is not what makes Turandot fall for Calàf. Turandot’s change is strongly influenced by Calàf’s willingness to risk death for love even after answering the riddles. Calàf gives Turandot the freedom to choose her fate. Turandot is also inspired by Liù’s willingness to die for love.

In front of the emperor, Turandot declares that her suitor’s name is “Love.” Calàf and Turandot are joined in marriage. The kingdom celebrates as Turandot finally lets down her guard to give love a chance.

Like Turandot, you may have had bad experiences that make you doubt if love is possible. But riddle me this: “What can be hard to find, even harder to maintain, but is worth putting in the effort if it’s with the right person?” The answer, if you want it to be, is love.

If you enjoyed reading this character analysis, purchase my book, The Psychology & Art of Character Development.


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