Turandot (Brecht)

Turandot or the Whitewashers' Congress is an epic comedy by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It was written during the summer of 1953 in Buckow and substantially revised in light of a brief period of rehearsals in 1954, though it was still incomplete at the time of Brecht's death in 1956 and did not receive its first production until several years later.[1] It premièred on 5 February 1969 at the Zürich Schauspielhaus, in a production directed by Benno Besson and Horst Sagert, with music by Yehoshua Lakner.[2]

or The Whitewashers' Congress
Written byBertolt Brecht
Date premiered5 February 1969 (1969-02-05)
Place premieredZürich Schauspielhaus
Original languageGerman
SubjectIntellectuals, ideology,
bureaucracy and the state
GenreEpic comedy

The story is loosely based on Count Carlo Gozzi's commedia dell'arte play Turandot (1762), a production of which Brecht saw in Moscow in 1932, directed by Yevgeny Vakhtangov.[3] From 1930 onwards, Brecht began to develop a version of his own, which became part of a wider complex of projects exploring the role of intellectuals (or "Tuis," as he called them) in a capitalist society.[4] Brecht's protagonist is coarse, lacking the whimsical charm of Gozzi's portrayal and the aspiration to nobility in Schiller's adaptation (1801).[5]

The play consists of 27 subdividing pictures in 10 major scenes. Its plot is about how to explain high cotton prices, although of a vast harvest. The prize for best explanation is Turandot. The big topic is the abuse of intellectual skills.

The play had its British première in an amateur production in 1970 and a professional production at the Oxford Playhouse in 1971.[6]


  1. Kuhn and Constantine (2004, 252).
  2. Kuhn and Constantine (2004, xxii).
  3. Brecht's library contains a copy from 1925 of Gozzi's play, in a German translation by Karl Vollmoeller. Yevgeny Vakhtangov's production in 1932 treated the play as a grotesque farce. See Kuhn and Constantine (2004, 250-251).
  4. Kuhn and Constantine (2004, 250-251). Brecht's word "Tui" is a neologism that results from the acronym of a word play on "intellectual" ("Tellekt-Ual-In"). The material that Brecht developed in the mid-1930s for his so-called Tui-Novel—a satire on intellectuals in the German Empire and Weimar Republic—also belongs to this complex of projects. See Kuhn and Constantine (2004, xix, 251).
  5. Thomson (1994, 25).
  6. Jacobs and Ohlsen (1977, 88, 91).


  • Brecht, Bertolt. 2004. Turandot or The Whitewashers' Conference. Trans. Tom Kuhn. In Kuhn and Constantine (2004, 127-193).
  • Jacobs, Nicholas and Prudence Ohlsen, eds. 1977. Bertolt Brecht in Britain. London: IRAT Services Ltd and TQ Publications. ISBN 0-904844-11-0.
  • Kuhn, Tom and David Constantine, eds. 2004. Collected Plays: Eight. By Bertolt Brecht. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77352-3.
  • Müller-Waldeck, Gunnar. 1981. Vom "Tui"-Roman zu "Turandot". Ed. Brecht-Zentrum der DDR, Berlin: 1981.
  • Sacks, Glendyr. 1994. "A Brecht Calendar." In Thomson and Sacks (1994, xvii-xxvii).
  • Thomson, Peter. 1994. "Brecht's Lives". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 22-39).
  • Thomson, Peter and Glendyr Sacks, eds. 1994. The Cambridge Companion to Brecht. Cambridge Companions to Literature Ser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-41446-6.
  • Willett, John. 1967. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Third rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1977. ISBN 0-413-34360-X.
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