In “Variations On A Theme From Turandot” a soprano in a successful production of Turandot begins to improvise on her part in the opera. The improvisations are not intellectual in nature, but rather are channeled from the character she’s playing. In time, the improvisations change the characters and the ending of the opera.
Though this is a well-worn plot, many readers will like the story, it has clockwork details that fascinate a good portion of the reading public. Buried deeply, there is also the hint that this story is metaphorical, and the characters breaking away from the composer/creator write their own destiny. Again, this will appeal to many readers, but it’s not for me. The premise is fun enough, the promise of a deep revelatory truth is enticing, and I would be applauding if the story was skillfully written, but this is not the case.
Ada Hoffmann attempts to negotiate a very large story in a very short format, but the result is a summary of a novel-size work rather than a potent short story. Summation tends to tell, not show, and this leads to the story’s shortcoming; the condensed characters do not fully bloom. The plot could be suspenseful, but because it’s summarized little or no tension is built. Lastly, on the notion that this is metaphorical for another intangible truth, Hoffman spends no time developing this concept; she dumps it in a few spots, and the plot is hardly affected by the abstraction. As I said, a great many will embrace this story; I wish I was one of them.
This story is, as the title says, a series of variations on the opera Turandot. It’s a strange piece that explores the Turandot character, Liù, as she’s played nightly on the stage by a woman known only as Soprano. Liù has somehow come to realize she’s a character in an opera and spends the rest of the story tweaking and twisting the lines of the story to change the ending.
It’s a rather beautiful story and well worth a read. The piece gracefully weaves the modern-day scenes of the Soprano with the slow, purposeful manipulation of the Princess by Liù. By the end, I’m left with a sense of wonder; wonder at the meaning of art, of the reflection of our lives in the lines we write or the arias we sing. But mostly I wonder at the impact our words have on future generations; on how a central theme of one person’s life might lend to a skewed view of love and loss.
Mike Wyant, Jr. is an ex-IT guy, who has finally committed to a writing life out in the Middle of Nowhere, New York.