Chailly avenges Puccini with original Butterfly

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2016 5:15 PM
Chailly avenges Puccini with original Butterfly

MILAN (AP) — Principal conductor Riccardo Chailly has avenged Giacomo Puccini's memory with a successful staging of the composer's original version of "Madama Butterfly" for La Scala's gala season-opener Wednesday, 112 year after its hotly contested world premiere on the same stage.

The VIP crowd showered Chailly, lead singers, orchestra and chorus with a quarter hour of applause and a cascade of roses for the bold choice of reviving the opera for the first time at La Scala as Puccini originally envisioned, but swiftly rewrote after a disastrous reception.

"This evening was a moment of important recognition for the greatness of this first version," Chailly said.

In a rare break with tradition, neither Italy's president nor premier attended the gala opening of the famed Milan opera house, one of the European cultural calendar's premier events attended each year by captains of finance, industry, culture and politics.

President Sergio Mattarella canceled his attendance at the last minute due to the country's latest political crisis prompted by Premier Matteo Renzi's resignation, which ultimately coincided with the performance. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini also sent his regrets.

In the place of government officials, four survivors of central Italy's recent earthquakes were invited to sit in the royal box.

Gabriella del Marro, of the hard-hit mountain town of Accumoli, said the invitation from Milan's mayor was an important sign of solidarity for the thousands affected by the two powerful October quakes in central Italy that caused extensive damage but caused no deaths. They followed a deadly quake in August in the same area.

"For us, it means that we are not alone. Italy is thinking of us," del Marro told The Associated Press. "Madama Butterfly" was her first opera.

The original version of "Madama Butterfly" includes harsher language by F.B. Pinkerton, the U.S. naval officer who takes Butterfly, a 15-year-old Japanese geisha, Cho-Cho San, as his wife despite his clear intentions to return home and marry an American woman.

The intensity of the long second act, which culminates with Cho-Cho San's suicide may have been particularly shocking to the early 20th Century audience, La Scala general manager Alexander Pereira said.

"Even today, I am shocked to see the scene, but in 1904 it was too much for people," Pereira said.

After it was panned in its world debut, Puccini expanded Butterfly from two acts to three, and the amended opera had its debut performance three months later in Brescia, to great success.

But Chailly noted that Puccini continued to tinker with the score, never settling on a version and thereby scuttling any pretense of a final intention.

During Wednesday's performance, Uruguayan soprano Maria Jose Siri made her debut in the role of Cho-Cho San (Butterfly), singing opposite tenor Bryan Hymel, who brought American swagger to the role of Pinkerton.

Siri's eyes shone with tears as she spoke with reporters after the performance, which included a trying 90-minute second act including the opera's dramatic denouement. She said her teen-age daughter's presence in the audience gave her strength.

"It was the most difficult thing. For all of the women who find themselves in a situation a little difficult of any kind, I want to send this message: Never give up. Never give up," Siri said.

Carlos Alvarez, whose billing to sing in last year's gala premiere was scuttled by illness, returned to the La Scala stage as the U.S. consul Sharpless.

"I thank theater who have me the chance to put myself in the shoes of the consul, who in the end becomes the conscience of this drama. It made me cry on the stage," Alvarez said. "This is the triumph of the premiere of Butterfly after 112 years."

The gala season premier was broadcast live on RAI state TV's main channel for the first time in decades as part of Pereira's effort to make La Scala more accessible. It competed for attention with news of Renzi's official resignation.

As in recent years, the opening was held under tight security, as dozens of protesters outside demonstrated against recent government policies, sparking momentary tensions with police.

Inside, guests of honor included Spain's former King Juan Carlos and Nobel Peace Laureate Federik Willem de Klerk, the last head of state of South Africa under the apartheid era. The CEOs of Italy's two largest banks, Unicredit and Intesa San Paolo, sought a momentary respite amid renewed financial instability due to the political crisis.