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Second Season Episodes :: #202 "Autopsy" :: The Use of "Nessun Dorma"

Promethia's Analysis of the Use of the Opera "Turandot" in "Autopsy":

OperaThe opera House was listening to on his iPod in the locker room before and after he had his team listen to the heart beats was "Nessun Dorma (No One Sleeps) from Puccini's Turandot".
"Nessun Dorma" is the showpiece aria of Puccini's opera "Turandot" and the song House listens to in the locker room in the episode "Autopsy." While some consider this extremely popular aria overused, in the context of Autopsy it is the key to uncovering a sort of allegorical substructure of themes and symbols from Turandot that underpins the entire episode. For those unfamiliar with the opera, the title character of Turandot is a beautiful but cold-hearted Chinese princess with an overabundance of unwanted suitors. To each potential suitor Turandot poses three riddles. If the suitor answers all three riddles correctly, Turandot will marry him, but if he answers incorrectly, he loses his head. An unknown prince arrives in Beijing with his father and their servant, Liu, and upon his first sight of Turandot, the prince determines to win her. To everyone's surprise he answers all three riddles, and Turandot is furious that she will be forced into marrying. The prince then offers her an escape route: if she can guess his name before dawn, he will die. Before continuing I would suggest reading this analysis of Nessun Dorma and its place in the opera.

Now, Autopsy, like Turandot, consists of a series of "riddles" that House has to answer: three medical and one personal. The answer to each is in some way "the heart." Q: Why does Andie have low oxygen levels? A: A tumor in her heart. Q: Where did the clot come from? A: From the same tumor. Q: Why is she so brave? A: Because she loves her mom (she's got heart). This last question begins as a medical one and becomes personal, thus doing double duty.

In Turandot, it is the prince who answers the first three riddles and Turandot who must answer the third. The end result of these riddles is that Turandot is "saved." Here House is the one trying to answer all the riddles. In the medical plot he is the prince and Andie is Turandot (the one to be saved), but when House wonders why Andie is so brave he becomes Turandot and she the prince. (Or, if you will, through the use of parallel plotlines they are each of them both characters at once.) Turandot's defining characteristic is her coldness. Here, Andy seems cold to her fate; as House notes, "She's a rock." And we all know why House is cold.

The key scene of this analysis is the surgery to find Andie's clot, which corresponds to the first stanza of Nessun Dorma.
No one sleeps, no one sleeps...
Even you, o Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
   And with hope.
In accordance with the parallel plotlines, this stanza must be applied two ways. The idea of cold reappears here literally: they are chilling Andie down. House, as always, is still his frigid self. As for the stars, House (Turandot) in his Broadway analogy calls Andie "my star." He is watching her "tremble with love/ And with hope": she has undertaken this dangerous surgery in the hopes of having more time with her mom. Andie (Turandot), for her part, is gazing up into the surgery bay and the viewing room where — behold! — the entire opening credits cast is arrayed. The doctors have all fallen for the brave kid with cancer and hope the surgery will help her.

This is the paragraph for all the little supporting bits that I'm less sure of/ are more peripheral to the analysis/ are kind of weird.
  1. There is the theme of love/life and death commingling, most notably for Andie during the abovementioned surgery. I think the same theme is echoed in House's clothes: at the beginning of the episode he is wearing a white blazer and T-shirt (with black skulls). Later he wears a black blazer with a black shirt.
  2. The recurring idea of a heart connects with the scene in which House is flicking the ace of hearts card.
  3. The title "Nessun Dorma" is in English "none shall sleep." This recalls House's assertion that he can't sleep because of the hay fever. Also, much of the second half of the episode occurs at night (or at least, it is very dark) and no one is sleeping.
  4. The bit of Nessun Dorma that House plays is the end of the song where the prince is singing "victory," appropriate since House has just discovered the answer to the first riddle. I also like that the ducklings enter just as the chorus is coming in to sing, "No one will know his name/ And we must, alas, die." As Chase has said in season one, if House doesn't figure out his case, they will all of them be miserable.
  5. Turandot isn't Turandot without a beheading, and the writer gives us one of sorts: the clinic patient with the botched self-circumcision. This explains for me why they would jam a seemingly really random and short clinic scene into an already overcrowded episode. It also brings in the theme from the opera of men suffering to please a demanding (unreasonable?) woman, which doesn't appear otherwise in the episode.
  6. Chase and/or Wilson must serve in some way as Liu, the character who already knows the prince's love, his "name," and is tortured to reveal it — the scenes where House figures out Chase kissed Andie and where Wilson says "Go to Hell," respectively.
Finally, Turandot has a happy ending: the two leads kiss and Turandot is "cured;" this is where Autopsy departs from the opera. House has temporarily cured Andie, but she's still going to die. House has some new ideas to ponder about embracing life/love, but is still the grump we know. He asserts as much when Andie is leaving: "I'm not going to kiss you no matter what you say."

"flakewhite" at Television Without Pity's House forum added this comment to the above analysis:
"Promethia's explanation of what my family now calls 'Tur-andie-dot' was so fitting that we would like to add that Chase has the part of the Prince of Persia--the prince who loses and must die--even though he looks as if he's playing the part of the Prince in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White."

See other selections of music and songs played during the first half of the second season of "House".

Quotations, etc. Copyright Heel & Toe Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, et al.
Pictures from the show copyright Fox Broadcasting Corporation
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