In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Pucciniana #5

Oct 25, 2012 11:30:00 AM
By BLO Staff

"Groans, roars, moos, laughs, bellows, sneers...." - a review of the premiere of MADAMA BUTTERFLY
"A virtual lynching" - Giacomo Puccini

"No one could have anticipated it. The house (La Scala, Milan) was sold out, the dress rehearsal had gone very well: Puccini was confident enough to invite twelve friends and some relatives which he rarely did for an opening night preformance. He sent a note to Rosina Storchio congratulating her on her interpretation and anticipating a triumph. But it was not to be. February 7,1904 became one of the most notorious of operatic fiascos. Any resemblances to LA BOHEME - particularly Butterfly's entrance music - was catcalled - "We've heard it before" someone shouted. When the composer entered, still limping from his (almost fatal) car accident, he was greeted with derisive laughter. Whistles and shouts of protest overwhelmed the scattered applause often not allowing the singers to hear the orchestra. "Butterfly is pregnant " one man shouted when a breeze swelled Storchio's kimono. "By Toscanini" answered another. The audience howled. Puccini's use of actual birdsong in the "vigil" music was answered by rooster crows. When the curtain finally fell there was total silence shattered only by Pietro Mascagni, Puccini's old and bitter rival, weeping loudly and haranguing the audience for its disgraceful behavior. Puccini's publisher Tito Ricordi (and the composer) always held that these demonstrations were the work of an organized claque of rivals (including Mascagni) who had waited years to bring him down. William Berger has an another interesting take:

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

"Puccini's 'little operas' about ordinary people were not satisfying the national craving for something epic that would command the respect of the rest of the world. Another opera about a sad heroine. if the world didn't already see them as a nation of emotional teary lightweights with soft gooey centers..."
Puccini had his revenge (although he made some small but important revisions after Milan) and the piece received a triumphant reception only a few months later in the smaller theater at Brescia- perhaps tauntingly close to Milan. BUTTERFLY went through several versions but quickly it became one the most performed and beloved operas in the repertory.

Topics: Madama Butterfly, madame butterfly, Puccini, la scala

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