29 November 2011


Would someone please tell me when and why seemingly everyone suddenly started pronouncing the final "t" in Turandot?

According to every source I've seen (you can easily google this stuff, but here's the Wikipedia entry), Puccini himself did not pronounce the final "t," and neither did Rosa Raisa, who created the role, and neither did Toscanini, who conducted the premiere, and neither did Eva Turner, another famous early exponent of the title role. And isn't it obviously more awkward to sing the name with the final "t" pronounced? So why do so many people now think they know better than Eva Turner, Rosa Raisa, Arturo Toscanini, and Puccini himself?

Apparently Puccini's grand-daughter, Simonetta Puccini, favors pronouncing the final "t," with no reason given (and no citation given in Wikipedia, either); though I'm sure she's a lovely woman, there's no genetic authority here; if Puccini's contemporaries, who knew him and worked with him, say that he didn't pronounce the "t," then it shouldn't be pronounced.

As you can see from Wikipedia or other sources, the name derives from a Persian name in which the final "t" is pronounced, which is interesting but irrelevant if the creator of the opera didn't pronounce the name that way. You can also see claims that Carlo Gozzi's play Turandot should have the final "t" pronounced due to the Venetian dialect he spoke, which again is interesting but irrelevant to the opera. No one claims that Verdi's penultimate opera should be pronounced Othello rather than Otello because his source is Shakespeare and Shakespeare has the "th," or that Byron was "wrong" to anglicize the pronunciation of Don Juan into Don Jew-un.

So, seriously, what gives?

(No doubt one reason I feel strongly about this is that the pronunciation of my last name was anglicized by my grandparents (so that it rhymes with "jazz") and I constantly have to correct people who think they are being "authentic," whatever that means.)


Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm sure you'll be hugely surprised to hear that I know the answer to this question off the top of my head, more or less: I had to look up the reference.

There was an article in Opera Quarterly in 1997 that discussed this. I thought I had the issue, but I don't, so I read it on a streetcorner someplace. The author found what you found: Puccini's more or less contemporaries said "Turando."

The author's conclusion is that the shift started with the Leinsdorf recording, as I recall, and that it's been downhill ever since. Here's the reference.

I quibble with "who worked with him on the premier," because while Toscanini heard parts of the score while Puccini was working on it, Puccini had of course died by the time of the primo.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Yes, I should have known you would know! Thanks for the link -- I will check it out. Who knew Leinsdorf had such mighty powers.

Good point about "who worked with him on the premiere" which was clumsy and inaccurate on my part; I would change it immediately but for some reason blogger is suddenly not allowing me to make edits. So now this is going to eat at my until I can revise it. . . .

Patrick J. Vaz said...

quibble corrected! *whew!*

sfmike said...

I much prefer the "autentico" English pronunciation of "Vase" for your last name, but if you insist on favoring your assimilation minded grandparents and their anglicizing ways, go ahead. Just know I am whispering Vossss to myself in my head.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

That's fine -- just as long as you keep it in your head. . . .

Actually, neither pronunciation you have there is close to either the way I pronounce it (as noted, it rhymes with "jazz") or the way it's pronounced in Portugal, which is something along the lines of "vahzh." Amusingly enough my honorary cousin Miguel from Lisbon told me that he has to be careful pronouncing the name when he visits Paris, because it sounds like "vache," which is the French word for cow, so he has to avoid introducing himself as Monsieur Cow. Mon dieu!