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Ensemble

Extremely Traditional

'Madama Butterfly' in Arizona,
reviewed by MARIA NOCKIN

 

In June of the year 1900, Giacomo Puccini (1856-1924) took some time off from supervising rehearsals for the British première of Tosca to see David Belasco's play Madam Butterfly. Since the composer loved the exotic material of the play, he also looked into John Luther Long's novella which was its source. Originally, he intended to fashion an opera that would place Act I in the United States and Act II in Japan. Thus, he could contrast two cultures, both of which interested him. Playwright, Luigi Illica, and poet, Giuseppe Giacosa, had already written the libretti for Puccini's La Bohème and Tosca, so they were the logical choice to write the lyrics for Madama Butterfly.

José Luis Duval as Pinkerton in Arizona Opera's 'Madama Butterfly'. Photo © 2007 Scott Humbert
José Luis Duval as Pinkerton in Arizona Opera's 'Madama Butterfly'. Photo © 2007 Scott Humbert

Illica was asked to prepare an outline for the projected opera. He did, but not in the manner the composer expected. He put Act I in Japan where Pinkerton met and married Butterfly. For Act II he suggested three scenes: the first and third in Butterfly's house with the middle scene at the American Consulate. The librettists and the composer worked on that plan for over a year but, in the end, Puccini discarded the scene at the consulate in favor of other material for Pinkerton and Sharpless.

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Copyright © 4 February 2007 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller