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Subject: Butterfly: Moffo's Film Version
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Wed, 25 Oct 2017 09:45:58 -0400

text/plain (74 lines)

I think I own if not all, most of the Butterfly recordings known to captivity.  As much as I 
love listening sometimes you want to "see" a performance, too, so let me me put in my vote 
for the marvelous film of a 24 year old Anna Moffo in one of her first professional gigs.  

It is, hands down, the best thing I’ve seen from Moffo, a performance difficult to equal in 
every area of this role.  Without a bit of Japanese-style make up, the young soprano moves, 
sings and creates a Cio Cio San I can’t imagine being bettered.

“Un bel di” “Che tua madre” are both stunning in their searing intensity and drama with 
Moffo judging wisely, never oversinging (which happens a lot in this role).  Her "Un bel di" in 
fact, is sung almost as if being whispered to Suzuki's ears alone.  It knocks me out every 

The end of the first act duet is beautifully capped by Moffo’s voice matching her ecstatic 
action; Cio Cio San collapsing backwards into Pinkerton’s arms.  Simple. Uncomplicated.  

There are a number of incredible directorial choices, innovative and frequently more 
illuminating than we often see today produced today by any one of a dozen regies after 
downing their morning espresso and trying to shoehorn it into a concept of their own 
devising.  At the start of Act II, we see Butterfly, stretched out on her stomach, writing 
something in Japanese; looking like any bored-out-of-her mind teenager of every culture.  
This simple action deepens and familiarizes a character we think we know everything about 
adding a slightly comical note, one which endeared her to me even more than I thought 

The most touching “business” occurs during the vigil.  At the beginning of the Humming 
Chorus, Moffo unwraps Pinkerton’s ring and in a magnificent dumb show worthy of the finest 
silent screen actresses, her face and features glow, growing in intensity until she is swept 
away by all emotion, yet trying so hard to keep all of it hidden away inside.  This is a 
performance both delicate as it is powerful.  She winds her way back to the bridge she 
walked to her wedding, settles there and remains alone for the remainder of the scene.  

The early morning sounds of the next scene, we see Suzuki and Trouble on cushions, 
sleeping soundly.  Suzuki rises and as the music opens up some of the scores most 
gloriously intense music, she begins running frantically, pulling up all of the shades and 
almost deconstructing the house, flooding the little house with light, the flowers still strewn 
wildly about.  She finds Butterfly, motionless, still kneeling on the bridge, where she has 
spent the night waiting.  It’s pure “lump in your throat stuff”, folks.  Every gesture, each 
expression comes seemingly spontaneously as though she actually believes she is Cio Cio 
San.  I certainly did.  

Sadly, there’s the case of Pinkerton.  Renato Cioni, handsome and not embarrassing himself 
as an actor, offers the roughest voiced, most inelegantly phrased Pinkerton in my 
experience, shrieking his way through the role, with high notes showing off a particularly 
dreadful technique with a flattening out of vibrato and creating an ungodly, painful white 
noise quite the opposite of what ANYONE wants for Pinkerton.  Well, at least he looks good 
and the director keeps him away after the suicide.  

Miti Truccato Pace takes the prize as one of the best acted and most sympathetic Suzukis to 
have sung this role.  

Afro Poli offers a thoughtful, old school Sharpless, a bit older than usual, but richly voiced, 
pointing up all of his music with an actor’s attention.  

This was a live studio telecast from January 24, 1956 and we’re lucky to even have it 
around, and if it doesn’t look like something from Lucasfilms, it’s still well worth your time.  
Well, it was worth my time at least.  


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