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A Story From: China
Read Time: ["20+mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.

Far from home, a prince must answer three riddles to keep his life.
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The current presentation is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.


*The origin of the story of Princess Turandot is multi-faceted. Original strains come from the Middle East, though the more popular version of the tale that survived the years was written by an Italian who set the story in China. Thus, this version of the story of Princess Turandot is derived from a number of countries, but because it is set in China the source of the story is credited to China. The following four sources were utilized for the current presentation:

(1) A story from the book The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night by Sir Richard Francis Burton, published 1885, and titled "The Linguist-Dame, the Duenna and the King's Son." This book, also known as 1001 Arabian Nights or simply The Arabian Nights, is a piece of Middle Eastern literature based on the frame tale of the bride Sheherezade.

(2) Another story with a plot line closer to the current presentation is found in "Prince Calaf and the Princess of China" from The Persian Tales and the 1001 Days. In this version, the princess is named Tourandot. Also the character of Adelmuc (Adelma) is introduced, a slave girl who stabs herself in the end when she does not win the heart of the prince. The emperor of China is Altoun-Khan, a name scholars believe to be from the Mongol dynasty that ruled northern China from about 1127-1234.

(3) A story from The Travels of Marco Polo.

(4) A story from Brothers Grimms' collection of German fairytales (the story "The Riddle" or "Das Raetsel", #17). In this variant the proud princess is the one to set a challenge to any suitor that she will answer any riddle within three days; if she can do this his head will be cut off but if she can not then she will marry him. In this story, the king's son is the one who poses a riddle that stumps her.

Note: There are a number of other variants of the story of "Turandot." Typically, the unsuccessful suitors lose their lives. The softer ending in the current presentation of "Turandot" is a contemporary touch.

The plot of the modern opera known as "Turandot" was first developed by Carlos Gozzi (1720-1806), one of the leading playwrights in Venice in the 18th century. Gozzi selected certain fables and dramatized them into realistic, domestic comedies. In 1792 he released "Turandot" with new characters and subplots. Gozzi's "Turandot" was later adapted by Geocomo Puccini in the early 1920's into an Italian opera by the same name and performed for the first time in 1926, though Puccini had died two years before and it was completed by Franco Alfano. Sidenote: Puccini may be better known to contemporary Americans by his opera "Le Boh�me," the forerunner of the Broadway blockbuster Rent, and for his 1904 release "Madama Butterfly," a tragic love story set in Japan. After some initial resistance to the production of "Turandot" in China (perhaps because of the unflattering portrayal of the fate of the men who precede Prince Calaf, whereas their heads are cut off and displayed), an epic production was staged in the Forbidden City in 1998 to popular review.

The city of Astrakhan is located in Russia on the delta of the river Volga, near the Caspian Sea. In ancient times Astrakhan was Tatar capital. The Tartar people (also called Tatar) are descendants of the followers of Genghis Khan, a mixed peoples of Mongol and Turkish heritage. In 1552 Astrakhan was conquered by Russia. Modern-day Tartars live mostly in the Russian autonomous republic of Tatarstan, West Siberia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. A popular referendum in the Tartar region in March 1992 endorsed the establishment of Tatarstan as a sovereign state. In the story "The Three Riddles," Prince Calaf and the people of Astrakhan are Tatars.