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Opera Titles: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off…

I voice and produce the on-air calendar for KERA’s Art & Seek every day.  It’s usually a pretty straightforward process; I pick a few items and write a few sentences about each event.  Then I record and produce it, and move on to the next day.  But this past Monday’s calendar was a whole different story.

I decided to feature an event that promoted The Dallas Opera’s July production of Turandot, by Giacomo Puccini.  I did get a degree in opera performance from LSU, but that was some time ago.  So I thought it appropriate to look up the correct pronunciation of the opera’s title.  What I found was that this is a much fought-over point.  I read that the opera’s name, Turandot, is derived from a Persian word, wherein the final “t” would be voiced.  However, it appears Puccini may not have ever pronounced the final “t” himself.   I also found two websites that would pronounce the word for me so that I could hear it for myself.  One version had the final “t” voiced and one did not, but both put the syllabic stress on the second syllable.  Aha!  There is my decision.  Tur-AN-dough.  This must be correct!

To my dismay, I was greeted Monday morning with polite criticism from some KERA  listeners challenging my intonation.  I was told by one that the final “t” should be voiced and by many that the stress lies on the first syllable.  TUR-an-dough.

The Dallas Opera’s official stance on the subject is no “t”, stress on the first syllable.  The Fort Worth Opera utilizes what they call the Americanized version, with a voiced “t,” stress on the last syllable.

Thus I went round and round the office trying to figure out who might be “right.”  As our Vice President for Radio at KERA put it, “is this one of those tomayto, tomahto cases?”  Finally, I decided to consult my friend Daveda Karanas, an international opera singer who is currently playing Amneris in Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Aida.  Knowing that I could not possibly be 100% right, I wanted to know who was MORE right.  Does the stress belong on the first or second syllable?  What about that pesky “t”?  I was hoping she’d break the tie.

According to Daveda, the current accepted pronunciation of “Turandot” has the stress on the last syllable with a silent “t.”

Tomayto, tomahto indeed.

So, listeners, say “Turandot” how you like, but most importantly, enjoy the show.  And also enjoy this video featuring Eva Turner who was one of the first to sing the opera’s title role.