I was very fortunate to have been present for most of the
filming of the wonderful Unitel film of _Madame Butterfly_
with Freni and Domingo.
It was made in a hangar-like studio in Berlin. The sound-
track had been laid down months before (actually the Decca-
London commercial recording with Pavarotti-Freni, but after
it was deemed that Pavarotti would have been physically
unacceptable as Pinkerton on the film, Domingo tracked all
of Pinkerton's music and it was inserted for the movie
sound-track. As a tradeoff Luciano did the Ponnelle
Unitel film of _Rigoletto_ )
As many of you know, Freni had never sung Butterfly on stage,
and to this day she has only performed the last act in a live
production. The cast would arrive for costume and make-up
while Ponnelle was busy establishing the shots acording
to his camera treatment. The single camera was operated
by one of Ingmar Bergman's favorite cameramen. Rehearsals
with the singers were more like intimate discussions with
Ponnelle, who knew exactly what he was aiming for. After
he explained the sequence to the artists, they simply did it
until the lip-synch was as perfect as possible. With the
exception of the most strenuous vocal moments, the singers
basically pretended to be singing, and in the big moments they
marked their parts.
When working with a pre-determined soundtrack another
dimension is imposed on the interpretation. I was disturbed
to see that the Mitterand film deliberately does not respect
Puccini in many places. I was very troubled by many aspects
of the Mitterand film and most of them have already been
described on Opera-l by others.
Back to Berlin. Each day fresh shrubs arrived from planes
from Asia, only to receive a coat of Ponnelle-grey paint.
The portions of the love duet that appear to have been
filmed almost completely outside was done on a 4x8
platform surrounded by those painted shrubs. During the
procession of the relatives arriving for the wedding, the
"breeze" setting the weeds in the foreground in motion
was created by Ponnelle himself blowing gently on them.
As I recall, I think Freni's "La un bravo giudice" was done
in one take, as everyone watching in amazement prayed
that the lip-synch would not spoil it. I also remember
ruining one take myself when, as an extra, I stumbled
in the tabi (slippers) on the stones in the garden while
serving tea with Christa Ludwig as Jean-Pierre moaned
from his perch in the roof.
IMHO, Freni's filmed Butterfly remains a remarkable