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Subject: Re: Madama Butterfly - letter to Ricordi
From: donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 13 Jun 2017 10:03:06 -0400

text/plain (155 lines)

Was the video I watched last December this performance?  I thought
it was one of the best performances of the opera I have ever seen.  I
do not agree, however, that Puccini's melodic improvements, in the
First Act duet, for example, are in any way unwelcome.


On Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 9:28 PM, David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>

> In anticipation of viewing Madama Butterfly from last December at La Scala,
> courtesy of Landmark Theaters - highly recommended viewing - one particular
> inquiry comes to mind, regarding something I found, reading a page off
> As more than an aside, I highly recommend attending the moviecast, should
> you be within three hours driving distance of a Landmark Theaters venue.  I
> tuned in to listen last December.  Maria Jose Siri is very fine in the
> title
> role and will be singing Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai, in a new
> production, conducted by Fabio Luisi, next season at La Scala,  This is a
> very lyric, but ample voice and a singer with good dramatic instincts as
> well.  Bryan Hymel, who'd perhaps prefer to pride himself on the French
> heroic repertoire (Aeneas, Arnold, Henri in Vepres) gave of his very best
> as
> Pinkerton,  if not fully then almost rivalling Giuseppe di Stefano in being
> as much in character as Pinkerton, thus far out-distancing Pavarotti in
> doing so.  The supporting cast is very fine. Chailly drawing most supple
> and
> nuanced playing out of his La Scala forces, gives of his very best.
> Perhaps the revised 1906 version is a little tighter in places, such as
> during the first half of Act One, but the lightness of the episodes cut out
> of the later version here is infectious - and the further insights than we
> have in 1906 into the character of Pinkerton are harrowing in a way.  In
> contract with the smoothed over, over-sentimentalized tale we've known for
> far too many years from the 1906 version, with compromises such as 'Addio,
> fiorito asil (better if it had a separate life entirely of its own, as the
> melody to it is very nice) - and I should not give away any surprises as to
> what Butterfly's last aria or solo is like.
> Should one take the time to read the novella by John Luther Long, it makes
> much better sense again now than it has before.
> Puccini is so much more true to himself in 1904 than he was later on - in
> what I now reckon to be a very confused stance we've suffered from for too
> long, regarding Madama Butterfly.  I have in the back of my mind earlier in
> life have even assumed that Madama Butterfly might have been in some ways a
> step backwards for Puccini, but should I have had any doubts, the original
> 1904 version rectifies things in a hurry.
> According to the Ricordi website, there is a letter that the composer wrote
> in 1920 to Giulio (?) Ricordi, suggesting that it was under 'constraint' of
> perhaps what might've needed to be done to please the public, audiences of
> his day, to make the changes he did.  He in this letter however expressed
> 'fear and bitterness' that he might not get to experience this work again
> as
> he had originally conceived it.  Here his revision(s) had become a runaway
> success in many major capitals on several continents, whereas the original
> version the one time it got performed at La Scala was notoriously a fiasco.
> Perhaps the audiences at the time, encountering a Second Act nearly 90
> minutes long, the last half of which almost entirely through-cojmposed,
> sensed that the encroachment of so much musical influence from the North of
> which they were apprehensive had here come a little too much to life.
> Though indeed at least somewhat through-composed, Puccini, more I'd
> arguably
> say in some ways than in the  sanitizing revision thereof, had come up with
> something fully Italianate, expressive that way.  Think of how resentful
> Claude Debussy, a formidable influence upon Puccini himself, might have
> been
> had Pelleas et Melisande faced the same accusation - of having been written
> under the influence of the Bard from, in his case, neighboring country to
> the east.
> I feel in a way rewarded for having stood up and loudly, lustily booed the
> last time I attended Madama Butterfly in Houston six years ago, though well
> sung were the two principals (Ana Maria Martinez, Josef Calleja). It was
> conducted badly and the production, though in a way pretty to the eye at
> first was just dreck (Michael Grandage).  Summers editorialized in Opera
> Cues that Madama Butterfly ends in G Major - instead really an unresolved
> submediant chord in B Minor that is indeed in fact a G Major chord.   And
> he
> thinks just as of late he is worthy to conduct Gotterdammerung?  Back in
> 1985 however we had a Ken Russell production of Madama Butterfly, which I
> feared at first would be too kitschy by half, but which turned out to be
> quite gooid, very responsibly conducted by Lawrence Foster.  Jaw dropping
> were the insertions of 1904 in what was mostly an account of the 1906
> version.  Richard Leech did not sing 'Addio, fiorito asil.;'  Good for him
> and all forces involved on that occasion.
> Where might we find the letter, which was probably to Tito Ricordi, so we
> all may be able to read what is there?  I did not begin my search by
> showing
> up on the listserv this evening, but it is one of several steps I've had in
> mind the past couple of days.  The Julian Smith reconstruction of the 1904
> version of Madama Butterfly has been around.  Why might we have had to wait
> for so long for it, beyond Komische Oper Berlin and Welsh National Opera,
> perhaps one other place, according to the composer's wishes, should such a
> letter as I mention here exist, to experience, again according to what
> Puccini would have desired himself to see the full light of day?
> Riccardo Chailly, with the service he has given Puccini and his work -
> encouragement and world premiere of the new finale to Turandot, the great
> Ronconi production of Trittico, and now this, is deserving of some honorary
> ackonwledgment of what he has done.  His set of La Boheme with Gheorghiu
> and
> Alagna, recorded from La Scala, though starring not my two favorite singers
> in the world, gave us perhaps a foretaste of what might follow later on.
> It
> is so vastly superior to the overrated Karajan on the same label.  Instead
> of muzak for Puccini, one gets similar either to Carlos Kleiber or to
> Toscanini, a full abiding by the strong dynamci contrasts that are marked
> in
> the score and the entire thing just leaps over the speakers in such a way
> the Karajan fails to do so.  Thomas Beecham, with the poetic sense about
> this piece he had, somewhat gets away with his slower tempos and more
> reflective approach, but he was Thomas Beecham, but a few insights
> notwithstanding, Bernstein, Karajan, Pappano, Mehta do not.
> Landmark Theaters will be showing Madama Butterfly, in a new production by
> Alvis Hermanis, on June 28th. Starting time at most of their venues will be
> 7 pm.  Do not miss out on this.
> David H Spence
> **********************************************
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