Within their private apartments, Ping, Pang, and Pong lament Turandot’s bloody reign, hoping that love will conquer her and restore peace. Their thoughts wander to their peaceful country homes, but the noise of the crowd gathering to witness the riddle challenge calls them back to reality.
In the royal throne room, the old emperor asks Calàf to reconsider, but the young man will not be dissuaded. Turandot arrives. She recounts the story of her beautiful ancestor, Princess Lou-Ling, who was abducted and killed by a conquering prince. In revenge, Turandot has turned against men and determined that none shall ever possess her. Trumpets then herald the beginning of the riddles. Turandot poses her first question to Calàf: What is born each night and dies each dawn? “Hope,” Calàf answers correctly. Turandot continues: What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not a flame? “Blood,” Calàf replies after a moment’s thought. Shaken, Turandot delivers the third riddle: What is like ice but burns, and if it accepts you as a slave, makes you a king? Tense silence prevails until Calàf triumphantly cries “Turandot!” The crowd erupts in joy, and the princess vainly begs her father not to give her to the stranger. Hoping to win her love, Calàf offers Turandot a challenge of his own: If she can learn his name by dawn, he will forfeit his life.