Thursday, 22 December 2016

Madama Butterfly - the grim original, Chailly La Scala

Puccini Madama Butterfly at Teatro alla  Scala, Milan, but not in the famous version, but the original so reviled at its premiere that it was immediately revised by its composer for a second premiere four months later on 28 May 1904, in Brescia, not Milan, the modern "standard" being the score published in 1907. The original Madama has never been lost, but has remained in the archives of Ricordi ever since.  Puccini continued revising the opera until 1920 : Riccardo Chailly included parts of that last revision when he conducted the opera ar La Scala in 1996.  The February 1904 version, which Chailly conducted this month at La Scala with Bryan Hymel, the Pinkerton of choice these days,   was broadcast live all over the world. Alas! I missed it having endured the appallingly awful Magic Flute (Adam Fischer/Peter Stein) but this "new" Madama Butterfly is available audio only on BR Klassik HERE.

Hymel is,  of course, outstanding, especially since, in the original, Pinkerton is unsympathetic, a callous cad, with no "regret" aria to redeem him and soften the narrative.  He also mocks the locals and calls them scum.  The beauty of Hymel's singing underlines the venality of the character he portrays.  The "love duet" is thoroughly creepy.  Such glorious music, such depraved morals.  This is infinitely closer to the way things were in an era when imperialism and racism went unchallenged.  All the more respect to Puccini for seeing past the "romantic" surface and through to the fundamental brutality in the story.  Please read my other pieces on Madama Butterfly, on Asian stereotypes and race issues by using the buttons at right and below.  Maria José Siri sings Cio-cio San. (Full cast list here)

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