Arturo Toscanini, on the podium of Teatro alla Scala on April 26th of 1926, the day of the opening night of Turandot, when the funeral procession of Liù ended, turned to the public and said: "Here the opera finishes for its author's death". And the curtain fell down. In the following representations Turandot had its Alfano finale known by the public. It is said that apart from the illness he was hit by, Puccini felt stuck because he didn't know how to put in music a happy ending, with the love triumphant between Calaf and the Princess after the death of the young slave, another of the many women whom the Lucchese author destined to a tragic end, probably even when it looks like the opposite, as in La fanciulla del west (The girl of the west)... It is important to remember the opera is inspired by a fable by Carlo Gozzi, where Liù had the simpler name of Adelma and wasn't destined to such a tragic end; in reality, she is an ex-princess who's been enslaved; she is far more jealous and catty and she does reveal Calaf's name to Turandot. Then she tries to commit suicide but is rescued and Turandot, calmed down, decides to generously hand her back her title and reign. But not the man...
The crowd has gathered in front of the Imperial Palace, upon the walls of Beijin. It's sunset and the dramatic decree of the Princess Turandot is being proclaimed: she will be married only to who is able to solve the three riddles she proposes. If the pretender fails, he will be executed. The crowd is waiting for sunrise to witness the execution of the Prince of Persia. During the uproar of the crowd waiting, there are Timur, the overthrown King of Tartary, Liù, his faithful slave and his son, the Prince Calaf. As the Princess Turandot appears, Calaf, struck by her beauty, decides to undergo the test.
The three ministers Ping, Pang and Pong are discussing the tragic challenge of the new Unknown Prince, evoking the deaths the decree has already brought and dreaming about their far away houses and the peaceful lives they used to lead. Night has fallen on the Imperial Palace yard. Calaf is advised against taking the test by the Imperator but he doesn't let himself be discouraged. After the decree is proclaimed, the Princess explains the origins: one of her ancestors had been defeated by a foreign Prince, conquered and pulled away from him, she had died of pain and shame. Turandot has sworn to avenge the offense by punishing every foreigner who wishes to marry her. The test starts, the first riddle says: "What is born each night and dies each dawn?". After an anxious silence, the Prince announces: "Hope". The wise men confirm and the crowd is astonished. The amazed Princess presents the second riddle: "What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?". Calaf answers: "Blood" and the wise men confirm again. The crowd murmurs in amazement and Turandot tells the third riddle: "What is like ice, but burns like fire?". Calaf jumps on his feet shouting: "Turandot!". The crowd cheers and acclaims the Prince with enthusiasm, the Princess pleas her father not to hand her to the Prince but the Emperor can't break his word. Calaf, having heard the Princess' plea, frees her from the pact, because what he wants is her love. He suggests himself a riddle for the Princess: if she finds out his real name before sunrise, he will give up his own life. Turandot accepts the challenge.
Whoever knows the name of the Prince must reveals it to the Princess or will die. The people, dead threaten, turn against Calaf, who refuses to tell his real name. Timur and Liù are brought to the Princess. They have been seen earlier talking to the Prince and are suspected to know his name. Liù offers herself in place of the old Timur and after she is tortured in vain, she tells how she is about to sacrifice her life for the love she has always felt for the Prince. Then she kills herself. Calaf pleas the Princess to stop the agony and pulling the veil which covers her face, he kisses her. The Princess surrenders and confesses her love to the Prince, asking him to forget the final test but Calaf reveals her his real name, putting his life in her hands. Turandot announces to know the name of the foreigner but just as everyone is waiting to hear it to send him to death, she says: "His name is…Love". Calaf hugs Turandot while the crowd acclaims and bursts in a song of joy.