Turandot (Gozzi)

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Yevgeny Vakhtangov's production of Turandot in 1922.
Turandot, engraving about 1859

Turandot (1762) is a commedia dell'arte play by Carlo Gozzi after a supposedly Persian story from the collection Les Mille et un jours (1710–1712) by François Pétis de la Croix. The play provides the plot for the homonymous opera by Puccini (and also the earlier work by Busoni), although it was Friedrich Schiller's adaptation Turandot, Prinzessin von China (1801) which initially interested Puccini in the material.

Another adaptation of the story comes from the German playwright Karl Vollmoeller. The twentieth-century dramatist Bertolt Brecht also adapted Gozzi's play, as Turandot, or the Whitewashers' Congress (1953–4).


The story, set in ancient China, involves prince Calàf who falls in love with the cold princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor must solve three riddles; any false answer results in death. Calàf passes the test, but Turandot still hesitates to marry him. He offers her a way out, agreeing to die should she be able to guess his real name.

Comparison of Gozzi's and Schiller's versions[edit]

Gozzi's play has a “light, sarcastic tone” whereas Schiller transforms it into a symbolic epic with an idealised moral attitude. Gozzi, although he also uses both elements of drama and comedy, puts them side by side as independent parts; Schiller combines them and makes them the result of each other. This interaction of dramatic and comical, their interdependence and the fact of their being equally matched, embodies the Romantic principle of universalism.

Gozzi's main character, the princess Turandot, seems to act out of a mood and cruelty whereas Schiller's Turandot is a person who resolutely follows her moral and ethical attitude. Also prince Calàf, who is a kind of lost soul and philanderer in Gozzi's version, becomes a kind lover who surrenders to his deep and true love for Turandot.

The classical commedia dell’arte characters in the play, especially Pantalone and Brighella, whose language is rather colloquial in Gozzi's version, lose their naïve nature and even speak in well-formed verses in Schiller's work; they also contribute to the more severe and moralistic atmosphere in Schiller's adaptation.


  • Banham, Martin, ed. (1998). "Gozzi, Carlo". The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge University Press. pp. 438–439. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.