The Turandot story has a complex history. The tale first appears in The Seven Beauties, an erotic epic by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, written in 1197. Puccini picked it up via Friedrich Schiller’s moralistic 1801 adaptation of a subversive commedia del arteplay by Carlo Gozzi. It is therefore an Italian composer’s view of a German poet’s take on an Italian comedy based on a Persian-eye view of Chinese history. Culturally complicated? Perhaps. But Puccini cared a great deal about imbuing his work with ‘authentic’ elements and his final opera, written between 1920 and 1924 and famously incomplete at the time of his death, is full of genuine Chinese tunes and a clanging array of representative percussive effects.

Benjamin Rasheed (Pang), Luke Gabbedy (Ping), John Longmuir (Pong) and Arnold Rawls (Second cast Calàf)

For Opera Australia’s fifth Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Lyndon Terracini went back to basics by hiring China-born, New York-based director Chen Shi-Zhen, a man skilled in both Chinese theatrical disciplines and epic theatre (he came to prominence with the 20-hour Kunqu opera, The Peony Pavilion, at Lincoln Center in 1999). As such, he’s ideally placed to...