Madame But­ter­fly

Santa Fe Opera’s 54th sea­son

Pasatiempo - - Front Page - James M. Keller

The night of Feb. 17, 1904, was not one of opera’s golden mo­ments. Gi­a­como Puc­cini was ex­pect­ing that the elite opera-lovers of the Teatro alla Scala in Mi­lan would ac­cord a huge ova­tion to his new opera, Madama But­ter­fly. It was the cul­mi­na­tion of nearly four years of work. He had been cap­ti­vated by David Be­lasco’s one-act play

Madame But­ter­fly (adapted from a story by John Luther Long that was it­self built on a tale by Pierre Loti) when he saw it in London in the sum­mer of 1900, and he went back­stage to ask Be­lasco’s per­mis­sion to de­velop it into an opera. The play­wright later re­called, “I agreed at once … be­cause it was im­pos­si­ble to dis­cuss ar­range­ments with an im­pul­sive Ital­ian who has tears in his eyes and both arms round your neck.”

Proper ar­range­ment needed to be dis­cussed, of course, but the nec­es­sary con­tracts were drawn up with­out un­due de­lay. Puc­cini promptly em­barked on the project with his tried and true li­bret­tists, Giuseppe Gi­a­cosa and Luigi Il­lica, who had pre­vi­ously joined him on the path to suc­cess with La Bohème and Tosca. He im­mersed him­self in re­search­ing things Ja­panese in or­der to in­ject what he con­sid­ered a re­al­is­tic fla­vor into the sad tale of the young Ja­panese girl who mar­ries an Amer­i­can ser­vice­man and then finds her­self de­serted and left with a baby, named Do­lore (“Trou­ble”), as a me­mento. A ter­rific cast was as­sem­bled, headed by the so­prano Rosina Stor­chio as Cio-Cio-San (the Madame But­ter­fly of the ti­tle — at least, the form of the ti­tle Santa Fe Opera is us­ing), the tenor Gio­vanni Ze­natello as Lt. Ben­jamin Franklin Pinkerton, and the bari­tone Giuseppe de Luca as the Amer­i­can con­sul Sharp­less, who tries to keep things on an even keel as the sorry tale un­folds.

Re­hearsals went smoothly, and the ac­com­plished con­duc­tor Cle­o­fonte Cam­panini had ev­ery­thing well in hand in the or­ches­tra pit. Puc­cini’s long­time pub­lisher Gi­ulio Ri­cordi had some mis­giv­ings about the new work, but La Scala’s gen­eral man­ager Gi­ulio Gat­tiCasazza (who would go on to head the Metropoli­tan Opera for nearly three decades) was en­thu­si­as­tic. Ri­cordi’s son Tito was ap­pointed as pro­ducer-di­rec­tor, and he put to­gether a pro­duc­tion that in­fused the cur­rent craze for japon­isme with truly op­er­atic op­u­lence.

Nonethe­less, Madame But­ter­fly was hissed and booed prac­ti­cally from the moment the cur­tain went up. In­stead of ova­tions, Puc­cini spent the evening hear­ing whis­tles, cat­calls, and shouts of de­ri­sion. Ac­cord­ing to Gatti-Casazza, the cast be­haved with ex­tra­or­di­nary poise, sing­ing through the din as if noth­ing un­usual was hap­pen­ing. The au­di­ence kept quiet only at the opera’s end, which, he re­called, was greeted by “ab­so­lutely glacial si­lence.” Gi­a­cosa launched into a back­stage tirade

Kelly Ka­duce as Cio-Cio-San and El­iz­a­beth DeShong as her maid, Suzuki, at the dress re­hearsal for Madame But­ter­fly, which, as of this new pro­duc­tion, has fig­ured into 10 of Santa Fe Opera’s 54 sea­sons

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