Italian Tenor Serenades Florence With Lovely Aria About Wanting To Marry A Very Murder-y Princess

Italian Tenor Serenades Florence With Lovely Aria About Wanting To Marry A Very Murder-y Princess

One of the ways Italians have been coping with being quarantined in their homes over the last week has been by singing to one another on their balconies and from their windows. Football songs, patriotic songs, pop songs, folk songs, etc. etc. It is both very lovely and not at all surprising.

Per esempio, here are some lovely people in Naples singing "Abbracciame" by pop singer Andrea Sannino.

Italy Lockdown: Here is Naples singing "Abbracciame" (Hug me) in Lockdown to fill less

I am learning the lyrics just in case I need to start singing this from the condo my parents are renting in Naples, Florida, which I am sure our neighbors would appreciate.

Also, here are some people singing some other song in Siena! I listened to it like four times and gather that it is something about Piazza del Campo, which is like their town square.

And then, in Florence, there was tenor Maurizio Marchini serenading his city with an exquisite rendition of "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

Maurizio Marchini Serenades City of Florence from his Balcony during the Italian Quarantine

Is Nessun Dorma beautiful? It is! But since we're here, let me just tell you what Turandot — possibly one of the most batshit operas of all time — is about. Because honestly, I am just super, super sick of writing about coronavirus, and I basically never get a chance to explain this while sober.

Turandot is Puccini's last opera, and in my personal opinion (but also most people's personal opinions), one of his best. But there are some problems with it. Notably that it is pretty freaking racist and, like Madama Butterfly, filled with some not great stereotypes of Asian people. It's a very... conflicty kind of a thing, especially if you are me, a person who loves opera so, so much.

So! Turandot is a princess in Peking, China (the original story supposedly came from Persia, was set in Russia and based on a Mongol princess famous for her wrestling skills — but Puccini was kind of obsessed with Asia, in case you had not noticed), and she's supposed to get married, because that's kind of one of the main duties of a princess of anywhere. Except, unlike the real Mongol princess Khutulun, who required that her future husband beat her in wrestling in order to win her hand, Turandot wants her future husband to solve three riddles.

So far so good, I guess! Except for her other rule, which is that if they don't solve the riddle, she gets to behead them. So it is like a very high stakes old-timey version of "The Bachelorette."

Right in the beginning, we see the Prince of Persia failing at answering her riddles and getting sentenced to death, while another Prince, the Prince of Tartary, runs into his long lost dad, the king, and his dad's personal slave girl, Liù. who has stayed with him despite the fact that he is no longer king because she is super in love with the aforementioned Prince. So that's nice.

Later that day, everyone gets all ready and goes down for the execution, very excited to see this dude they don't even know get beheaded. But then it turns out he's super young and nice and and good at walking (???) so everyone's like, "Hey, wait a minute! Don't kill that guy just because he couldn't solve your riddles! That seems excessive! Pietà! Pietà!"

Alas, Turandot has no pietà, so she's just like "Nah, I'm going to behead this dude. He knew what he was getting into!" and so she does. The Prince of Tartary sees this, and instead of thinking that maybe Turandot is kind of a sociopath, he gets cartoon hearts in his eyes, falls madly in love with her and decides to attempt to answer the riddles himself! All of Turandot's aides or whatever — who, by the way, are actually named Ping and Pong, because, again, there is just a lot of racism in this opera — are like "You've gotta be kidding me? Another one? Remember when our lives were more than just a bunch of dudes failing to answer riddles correctly and then being beheaded? That sure was nice!"

Her dad is also very done with this bullshit and would like her to chill with the constant murdering of people. Turandot even straight up tells the Prince — look, I actually just hate men because I'm possessed by the spirit of a woman who was raped and I kinda just want to kill you all! But he's like "NOPE, gimme the questions! This is a great life decision I am making!"

So Turandot asks the Prince her riddles three —

What is born each night and dies each dawn? ("Hope!" he answers)
What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire? ("Blood!" he answers)
What is the frost that can set a fire, but which fire freezes more?" ("Turandot!" he answers!")

AND WHOOPS, turns out the Prince is wicked good at riddles and got them all correct! Turandot is pissed! So the prince, being an idiot, decides to give her an out, and tells her that if she can guess his name before sunrise, she can still behead him like she wanted and not marry him. So she agrees to this and then tells all of her servants that they need to find out his name or she'll kill them all! Because, again, super normal well-adjusted princess here. The Prince is very excited because he thinks he's got this one, and that's when he sings Nessun Dorma.

Turandot's people eventually find the Prince's dad (who they don't know is his dad) and Liù, because they saw the Prince talking to them. Liù says she's the only one who knows his name, but that she won't tell them — so, at the bequest of Turandot, they torture her. And Turandot is like "Girl, seriously, why are you doing this shit?" and Liù is like "FOR LOVE! You'll understand soon!" and then she kills herself and at this point you're just like "Seriously what even is this shit? WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? ALL OF THESE PEOPLE ARE TOTALLY INSANE!"

The only one who is even sad about Liù's death is the King, because the Prince is still legit preoccupied with trying to get Lady Ed Gein to fall in love with him. He begs and begs and then he gives up and tells her his name so she can just behead him if she wants. But Turandot is so moved by this grand gesture that in the morning she announces that his name is ... AMOR.

Then they get married and live happily ever after, though probably with more than a few bodies buried under the floor boards.

But for real, it is a very awesome opera, and if you get a chance, you should go see it. Or at least listen to that one guy in Florence sing Nessun Dorma, and then listen to Aretha Franklin singing it at the 1998 Grammys when Pavarotti couldn't swing it, because that is also pretty fantastic!

Aretha Franklin "Nessun Dorma" LIVE

Anyway, that is enough of storytime for today! Wash your hands, stay the fuck inside, and hang out here, on your open thread!

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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