Once upon the time, there was a princess who suffered from misandry – fear and hatred of men. She had a good reason for it, too. Let’s hear it from her:
That was an inimitable duet of Eva Marton and Placido Domingo at the Metropolitan Opera.
Princess Turandot was originally written by Carlo Gozzi as Russian, then she seemed to have relocated to Persia (her name means ‘Daughter of Turan,’ which was a part of Persian Empire at some point), and finally landed in Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera as Chinese. She was still the same character, a great beauty with a heart of ice, bent on revenge. Any suitor, smitten by her beauty, had to solve three riddles offered by the cruel maiden, or lose his head. As you would imagine, Beautiful People, to move the story along, there was no shortage of suitors to keep the executioner busy.
Enter Prince Calaf. He is traveling anonymously because his country, Tartary, has just been defeated and conquered by China. Wouldn’t you know, he instantly falls in love with the ruthless princess, so he strides to the traditional gong which he has to strike thrice to declare his intentions. But the three comic characters, the ministers Ping, Pong, and Pang block his way:
“Man, you’re crazy!” – they warn him, but fail to stop the besotted stranger. Ominously, the gong rings, and Turandot appears on the balcony to take a look. Guess what: she likes what she sees, so next morning, when Calaf presents himself for the riddle rigmarole, she tries to dissuade him. She almost begs him to withdraw! If he did, of course, we wouldn’t have this dazzling opera. So this is how it proceeds:
- Riddle 1. “What is born each night and dies each dawn?” “Hope,” replies Prince Calaf, and Turandot starts getting nervous.
- Riddle 2. “What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?” This one is harder, and the Prince has to think for a moment before replying, “Blood”. Turandot is visibly shocked.
- Riddle 3. “What is ice which gives you fire and which your fire freezes still more?” He triumphantly proclaims, “It is Turandot! Turandot!”
Yes, the story is silly, but Puccini’s music is glorious. In 2026 Winter Olympics, the Japanese Figure Skater and Olympic Champion Shizuka Arakawa skated to this music:
Now that I have you in suspense, Beautiful People, do you think Turandot meekly submits? Not she! Instead, she runs to her father and begs him not to give her to this smart Alec, even though she actually likes him already. But Papa has been outraged by her “atrocious oath” to begin with and sternly orders to stop this nonsense and get ready to be wed. Desperate, she turns to Prince Calaf, “Will you take me by force?” That’s a manipulative move, if you ever saw one, yet Calaf, as a true gentleman, saves the day by offering a riddle of his own: if she learns his name by sunrise, he will die. Papa throws his hands up in disgust, “I hope next morning to call this man my son,” he roars.
Turandot does not give up easily. Having been given a glimmer of hope, she commands the entire population of the country to stay awake all night, diligently working on procuring this precious tidbit of intelligence, thus offering Puccini a pretext to create one of his best arias and the best known of this particular opera, “Nessun dorma” – Let no one sleep! The late great Luciano Pavarotti once again proves that tenor is divine:
Reproaching Turandot for her cruelty, Calaf catches her unaware with a passionate kiss, melting ice in her heart. She admits that she has had feelings for him but has been confused between hatred and love and begs him to leave. He, however, places his life in her hands by revealing his name. As befits a romantic story, when Turandot announces that she knows the name, and her father the Emperor, frustrated, asks, “OK already, so what is it,” she tenderly whispers, “It’s love!” Of course, they live happily ever after, but we can only guess that because, sadly, Puccini passed away before finishing his masterpiece. Striving for ethnic authenticity, though, he had managed to weave at least eight Chinese melodies into his music, including Turandot’s leitmotif, based on Chinese folk song Jasmine Flower, here performed by a brilliant Song Zuying at Sydney Opera:
Among many dear blogofriends, there is a talented young lady who brilliantly blogs from ‘the Little Red Dot,’ i.e. Singapore under penname Garfieldhug. I don’t know her name or what she looks like, but when I first saw this video, I thought of her. She has a neighbor who cooks like a dream and who provides her with spectacular meals on daily basis. You should see those weekly sets of awesome photos to instantly become intrigued and ravenously hungry at the same time! One of those entrees, Dried Longan Soup, fascinated me. By this time, I’ve already learned from another great blogofriend, lovely Carol of https://carolcooks2.com that longans are a kind of fruit, similar to widely known lichee. But soup made of dried fruit? I was inspired to research and experiment. Then I explored the new Chinese Emporium China Town.
Longans are also known as Dragon Eye fruit because of the black pit which is not easy to remove. The shell is hard, but brittle. The first time I followed instructions by soaking my longans overnight, then laboriously shelling them. Note: Since then, my husband devised a much better method by placing unsoaked dried longans into a silicone bag and striking them with a mallet, then rinsing them. You still have to soak the now shelled little wrinkled bits and laboriously remove pits. The Boss claims that a cherry pitter will do the job, but so far this remains to be tested, as he has been doing it by hand. From that point on, it’s pretty easy: dump them into a pot, add oyster mushrooms, pre-cooked or canned red beans, any heavy cream of your choice, grated ginger, soup powder, and seasoning. Since I use my trusty Instant Pot, I simply press the appropriate button and go surf the sublime opera waves on Youtube. Trust me, Princess Turandot has never tasted anything like that, or so my family claims!
- 2 cups dried longans
- 1 cup sliced oyster mushrooms
- 1 cup precooked or canned red beans, liquid drained
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (I used heavy coconut cream)
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon soup powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped fresh scallions to garnish
- Shell longans. Soak shelled longans in water overnight or at least for a few hours, until pits are easily removed. Place pitted longans into three-quart pot.
- Add the rest of ingredients. Add water.
- Set Instant Pot on Manual for 30 minutes. Alternatively, stovetop, bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, or until beans are very soft.
- Garnish and serve.