Turandot (includes Nessun Dorma)
Giacomo Puccini

168

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Puccini has 5 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame — the same as Dvořák and John Williams, amongst others — and this is the second. This has featured in 18 of the 20 charts, peaking in 1998 at number 84.

Puccini and Italia 90 are forever subliminally linked in the minds of millions of football fans. It was in Rome that year that Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Plácido Domingo gathered for what was to become one of the most influential classical music concerts of the twentieth century. All sorts of opera arias and Neapolitan songs were performed, but it was Puccini's Nessun dorma from his opera Turandot, sung by the terrific trio, that really captured people's hearts. The commercial success of The Three Tenors — and of Pavarotti in particular — paved the way for a resurgence of interest in classical music in the UK.

Turandot was an absolutely serious opera, dealing with such themes as love, loss and tragedy. It's somewhat surprising that it was composed as late as 1926, given that the opera inhabits an altogether Romantic sound-world. The plot is bizarre, even by operatic standards, focusing on the compulsory execution of any potential husbands of Princess Turandot who fail to answer three riddles correctly. Nowadays, very few people remember the intricacies of Turandot's storyline. But ask pretty much any man or woman in the street, and they will be able to sing a few bars from Nessun dorma.