Puccini's Turandot might seem an unlikely source of insights for feminist theory. It is, after all, an opera composed by a rake based upon a play written by a misogynist. Yet it is the uncanny nature of great works of art that they often undermine and even transcend the prejudices of the artists who create them. Of course, this begs an important question. Is Turandot a great work of art? Or is it a flawed work, an imperfect masterpiece? The final transformation of its central character, Turandot, from sworn enemy of the male sex to loving spouse, has always seemed unconvincing even to the opera's greatest champions. Turandot is an enigma because Turandot herself is also an enigma.
What complicates matters is that we do not have before us a finished work. Puccini never completed the final scene in which Turandot's transformation takes place; one had to be constructed from his sketches, a task performed by the composer Franco Alfano. Yet even with this supplement, the opera still seems to lack closure. It is left unfinished precisely where completion would be most crucial-at the place where we would finally understand Turandot herself, and why she is willing to put aside her hatred and exchange it for love.
The subject of this Article, then, is the Riddle of Turandot, or perhaps more correctly, the Riddles of Turandot, for the Riddle takes many different forms. There are the riddles that Turandot proposes to the hero, Calaf. There is the riddle that Calaf offers her in return. There is the riddle of Turandot's ending - how Puccini would have drawn together the strands of this unfinished opera. There is the riddle of the character of Turandot, left unexplained. And finally, there is the riddle that Turandot herself symbolizes: the riddle of the Other-the questions that men and women, but especially men, pose to themselves about the other sex.
Jack M. Balkin,
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol2/iss2/5