To “T” or not to “T”

Perhaps a slightly tacky introduction to an issue that is a dilemma in the opera world. How does one pronounce Turandot? If you are looking for a quick definitive answer, I’m afraid you are about to be disappointed. This issue has been discussed and argued for many years amongst the opera cognoscenti.

As this is an Italian opera written by an Italian composer, one might assume that the correct pronunciation would in fact be based upon the usual “rules” applied to the Italian language, in other words it would be a reasonable assumption that the final “T” should  be pronounced. Many famous recordings by leading singers and conductors do indeed pronounce the final “T”. (For an enlightening discussion on recordings and the pronunciation of Turandot, I refer you to an article found in the Oxford Journals that discusses this in detail written by Patrick Vincent Casali, “The Pronunciation of Turandot”.)

Further fodder for this side of the argument is that the inspiration for this opera comes from a play by Carlo Gozzi in which one finds the French spelling  Turandotte leaving no room for speculation regarding the pronunciation of the name with this spelling.

However, in the transcripts of an interview with the first Turandot, Rosa Raisa, she states that both Puccini and the renowned maestro, Toscanini, wanted it pronounced with a silent “T” as Turand[OH]. According to Casali above, he states that the earliest recordings do not sound the final “T” but critics argue that on some recordings the quality of sound is poor and at times difficult to decipher.

With regard to the technical demands of the singer, many would argue that it is much too difficult to pronounce the final “T” and that the constant sounding of the final “T” interrupts the flow of the vocal line. However, there are recordings with some famous singers that do indeed make every effort to pronounce the final “T” clearly. And then there are those recordings and performances where a decision could not be reached and one hears a hodge-podge with some singers articulating the final “T” and others not in the same performance!

So where does this leave us? In Casali’s words “It was true then, and to an extent still is today, that among aristocratic Italian families a French inflection in daily discourse was considered elegant…” Bearing this in mind, perhaps one can deduce that Puccini, being familiar with the French language himself, intended the French pronunciation of the word and not the Italian pronunciation. If so, this may suggest that the final “T” should be silent.

Obviously, this issue will be discussed at length during our rehearsal period. Come see our production to learn our final decision on this matter! September 11,13,15 and 18, 2010.


One thought on “To “T” or not to “T”

  1. Dave Shipley

    Opera Lyra could adopt an entirely new approach to pronouncing the name. For example, the ending t could be pronounced as in the Quebecois pronunciation of the word poutine. Another possibility, since the company recently performed Eugene Onegin, would be to adopt the the soft t from Russian, which I think means the name would be spelled ТурандотЬ.


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