On the origin of the three Ps…
An FAQ in my classes is “Why would Puccini put the stupid clowns in Act II of Turandot in the way of the famous Riddle Scene?”
Fair enough. Well, first of all it balances the act in running time, second: the first act ends large and the second act gets really large, so where are you going to give the big singers and chorus a break? And let’s be real: the end of the Riddle Scene musically and dramatically should be followed by an intermission, so your ears can stop ringing, not by something less intense to drag things out.
But the more artistic reason was that Puccini was giving a nod to the Commedia dell’Arte tradition, specifically to Carlo Gozzi, whose ‘scenario’ for the Turandot story was more or less improvised on stage in the late 1700s by Commedia types.
In Ferruccio Busoni’s opera Turandot, a Chinese fable in two acts (Zurich, 1917) the clowns have their Commedia names: Truffaldino, Pantalone, and Tartaglia. What’s more the three riddles are different.
Here’s a fun fact: Adelma (in the Busoni she’s the equivalent of Puccini’s Liu) actually rats to Turandot and reveals Calaf’s name in return for her freedom. Whoa! Puccini’s Liu tenders a hopeless devotion to Calaf because he smiled upon her and in the end she sacrifices her life before giving away his name under torture; Adelma wants revenge because Calaf laughed at her. No love lost in the Busoni.
Another fun fact: Busoni’s Turandot had its American Stage Premiere at the Palace Theatre in Stamford, CT in November of 1986 under the baton of Laurence Gilgore. It may have been the very first full length feature on opera I wrote for the local rag, but it might have followed my review of Renata Scotto’s Butterfly at the Met…they were the first and those were the days.