Princess Turandot is ready to send to death all her inferiors in astuteness. And Prince Calàf is ready to love her…
At the imperial palace, a Mandarin announces that yet another prince has failed to solve Princess Turandot’s riddle, and will thus be beheaded. The bloodthirsty crowd surges toward the palace while the guards try to enforce order. An elderly man accompanied by the slave-girl Liù is injured in the commotion. Calàf rushes to help them – he is a young prince who recognizes the old man as Timur, his long-lost father and the former king of Tartary. Timur has been hopelessly wandering the world, separated from his son, but with the assistance of the faithful Liù.
The time for the execution has finally arrived: the doomed prince is brought forth. The crowd is moved by how handsome he his; they beg Turandot to spare him. Their pleas are ignored. Meanwhile, Calàf falls in love with Turandot the moment he lays eyes on her: he decides he will attempt to solve her riddles.
Ping, Pang and Pong discuss the day’s events, as well as the probable death of the mysterious new prince. Every holiday is marked by yet another person’s horrible death: it is what Turandot wants. Thirteen princes have been executed this year alone. A trumpet blares – it’s time to go watch Turandot present the stranger with her riddles.
The crowd greets the emperor in the palace square. Turandot tells a story about a long-ago event that has led her to her decision to take revenge against men. Calàf solves all three of Turandot’s riddles – the crowd cheers, but the princess begs her father not to let the prince have her. Calàf gives Turandot a single riddle to solve – if she can figure out his name by morning, he will gladly die.
The palace gardens at night. Calàf is determined not to speak his own name until morning. The three ministers promise the prince beautiful women, riches, jewels – but he refuses. Guards have seized old Timur and Liù: now they can learn the prince’s name! Liù dies, but without speaking the prince’s name. Calàf reproaches Turandot for her cruelty, but he still loves her. Even Turandot is unable to repress her feelings any longer. Love has conquered all.