This is how love dies. Faithful and easily forgotten, a frail creature, slain by its own hand.
Make no mistake - the stranger is Death, and fair Cruelty his bride. Together they are beautiful and terrifying, heartless because sublime.
And what of Justice, blind and in rags? It is no accident that he is not here, in this coldest of dawns; no accident that he walks alone in the darkness, hand in hand with Love, his true child, for whom all is unfair.
I am told that at the premier of Turandot at La Scala in 1926 (hard to believe the opera is less than a hundred years old - it certainly feels far more dated) Toscanini stopped the opera at the point where Liu dies, leaving the final scene unperformed. Which just goes to show how brilliant Toscanini really was.
The problem with that last scene isn't that it's no good; on the contrary, it is, in my opinion, some of the greatest music Puccini ever wrote (I should say that I'm not, in general, a big Puccini fan - give me Verdi any day). The problem is that what comes before it - Nessun Dorma, Liu's death scene - is sheer genius, so that the final duet, heard so soon after the pathos of Liu's death, feels like a betrayal. The composer is upstaged by his own music.
As you've probably guessed, I just got back from a performance of Turandot by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. A good performance all in all, with fine work by Francesco Hong as Calaf and Ermonela Jaho as Liu, both of whom more than made up for the fact that Francesca Patane as Turandot was decidedly mediocre.
And am I the only one who finds these stereotypical depictions of the Mysterious Orient annoying and borderline offensive?