Puccini started writing the opera Turandot in 1920, after being inspired by the 18th-century play Turandot by Count Carlo Gozz. however he died before finishing so the opera was completed by Franco Alfano.
‘Nessun Dorma’ is a famous aria from Turandot‘s final act. The lyrics were written by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni and the aria is sung by the character Calaf, aka the Unknown Prince. Calaf falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot, who sets him three riddles. Calaf, to her dismay, gets them correct, unlike her other suiters. In a bid to finally win her hand Calaf sets her a new challenge – to discover his real name before dawn. If she fails, she has to marry him.
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa
Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle che tremano
D’amore e di speranza!
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me
Il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
Il silenzio che ti fa mia!
ll nome suo nessun saprà
E noi dovrem, ahimè! Morir! Morir!
Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Turandot, daughter of Emperor Altoum, has decreed that she will only marry if a suitor of noble blood can answer three riddles. If he cannot, the price shall be his head. Her most recent suitor, the Prince of Persia, is to be executed at the moon’s rising. In the commotion outside the palace a blind man falls to the ground, and his companion, Liù, asks for help. They are aided by Calaf, who recognizes the man as his long-lost father, Timur, the banished ruler of his land. Calaf, like his father, is running from enemies and concealing his identity, and is known only as the Unknown Prince. Liù continues to aid Timur even in exile because years before, as she explains, Calaf bestowed a smile upon her.
The people impatiently await the beheading. As the Prince of Persia enters, the crowd is suddenly moved and pleads with the Princess to pardon him. Turandot appears and dispassionately confirms the Prince’s sentence with a silent gesture. Calaf immediately is entranced by her beauty. Timur and Liù try to convince the smitten Calàf that he must leave with them, but he breaks away and attempts to announce himself as a suitor. The three ministers of the Imperial Household, Ping, Pang, and Pong, warn him of his folly, to no avail. Liù begs him to listen, but Calaf ignores her entreaties and ceremoniously rings the gong, signifying his challenge for Turandot’s hand.
Ping, Pang, and Pong prepare for the eventuality of a wedding or a funeral. They discuss their misery since Turandot reached marriageable age, numbering the many noble suitors who have met a deadly fate and reminiscing about life in their native provinces. Is there truly a man whose passion can melt Turandot’s icy heart? Their hopes are guarded.
A crowd assembles for the Trial of the Three Enigmas. Turandot devised this system to avenge her ancestress, Lo-u Ling, who was captured, raped, and put to death by marauding invaders. She offers Calaf one last chance to withdraw, but he stands firm. The first question is offered: “What is born each night and dies each dawn?” Calàf correctly answers “Hope.” Slightly taken aback, Turandot poses the next riddle: “What flares warm like a flame, yet it is no flame?” Calaf hesitates, then answers perfectly “Blood.” Visibly shaken, Turandot asks the final question: “The ice that gives you fire, what can it be?” Calaf tarries, then triumphantly cries “Turandot!” The people celebrate his victory, but Turandot pleads with the emperor not to be given to this Unknown Prince. Seeing her distress, Calaf offers a riddle of his own: “If before morning you can discover the name I bear, I shall forfeit my life.”
It is decreed that none shall sleep, under penalty of death, until the name of the Unknown Prince is discovered. Calaf expresses his conviction that he alone will reveal the secret. Ping, Pang, and Pong offer any prize, including his safe escape, if he tells them his name. Timur and Liù are captured, and at Turandot’s request Timur is to be tortured until he reveals the truth. Liù steps forward and says that she knows the prince’s name but will keep it as her eternal secret. Calaf reproaches the Princess for her cruelty. Turandot’s strength and desire for revenge leave her, and she weeps for the first time. Calaf reveals his true identity, thereby putting his life in Turandot’s hands. Trumpets announce the arrival of dawn and the assembly of the court. Turandot addresses the emperor and the people: “I have discovered the stranger’s name—it is Love!