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 announcing that any prince who wants to marry Peking’s Princess Turandot must provide answers to three riddles. 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, Calaf, makes it known he wants to pursue Turandot. Turandot reveals the reasons behind her rage towards men when she tells the story of her relative, Lou-Ling. She was killed by a prince during his pursuit of her. After Lou-Ling’s death, Turandot began to hate men and resolved that no man will ever possess her. While trying to protect herself from being possessed, Turandot has sabotaged her chance at 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, Calaf persists as Turandot begins the riddles. “What is born each night and dies at dawn?” she asks. Calaf correctly reponds, “hope.” Now Turandot wants to know, “What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not a flame?” Again, Calaf answers correctly, “blood.” Finally, Turandot asks, “What is like ice, but burns?” Calaf gives the correct answer once more. The answer is “Turandot.”
In disbelief, Turandot asks that her father put a stop to the marriage. Giving her a way out, Calaf 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 sleep until Turandot finds out his name.
Liu, a former servant who remains loyal to Calaf, is tortured by Turandot’s soldiers to reveal the name. Liu doesn’t give in. Turandot is intrigued and asks how she has held out so long. “Love,” Liu answers. She tells Turandot that she too will one day know love and then suddenly stabs herself to death to keep her secret. This is a pivotal point in the opera that prompts Turandot to think about changing the way she interacts with suitors.
Following Liu’s death, Calaf and Turandot confront each other. Calaf takes Turandot by surprise when he passionately kisses her. Turandot is overcome with emotion and Calaf 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 Calaf and the kiss alone is not what makes Turandot fall for Calaf. Turandot’s change is strongly influenced by Calaf’s risking death for love and by Liu’s willingness to die for love.
In front of the emperor’s throne, Turandot declares that her suitor’s name is Love. Calaf and Turandot are joined in marriage. The kingdom celebrates as Turandot has finally let 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.