[Met Performance] CID:141920
Madama Butterfly {269} Memphis Auditorium, Memphis, Tennessee: 05/21/1946.

(Review)


Memphis, Tennessee
May 21, 1946


MADAMA BUTTERFLY {269}

Cio-Cio-San.............Licia Albanese
Pinkerton...............Charles Kullman
Suzuki..................Lucielle Browning
Sharpless...............John Brownlee
Goro....................Alessio De Paolis
Bonze...................Osie Hawkins
Yamadori................George Cehanovsky
Kate Pinkerton..........Maxine Stellman
Commissioner............John Baker

Conductor...............Cesare Sodero

Review of Natlee Posert in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal

"Madama Butterfly" Staged in Mood Puccini Envisioned

While it is understandable that "Madama Butterfly" should be withdrawn during the war, its quick return to the repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera Company was impressive for its many enthusiasts. It is a poignantly touching tale, replete with Puccini's surging melodies.

The performance last night with Licia Albnese in the title role conjured the mood that Puccini envisioned. His is the Japan of the theater world. The opera book is based on a play by Belasco, from a story by John Luther Long, which in turn was inspired by Pierre Loti's "Mme. Chrysanthemum." So the Puccini work is thrice removed not only from its story source, but equally as distant from the harsh Japanese musical structure as well.

Not Supreme Work

In the opera Puccini has infiltrated many Japanese-inspired melodies giving an exotic aura to the defiantly Italian score. Japanese music, being dry and angular, the composer has embroidered it, threading it throughout the orchestration. "Butterfly" is not a supreme work, for Puccini has not the inventiveness to cover some commonplace tunes. However, when his sole intent is the tragic love story, he has produced warm, passionate music.

Miss Albanese created a touching Cio-Cio-San, the effect heightened in its chasteness by the limpidity of her high tones. Her voice is beautifully relaxed. She has buoyancy in her attack and in the "One Fine Day" aria this served her in good stead. For in this aria, abused because it is so lovely. Miss Albanese was so fresh as to elude all the memories of its hackneyed misuse. She seemed to intuitively understand the pathetic little heroine and, though by the nature of her figure she cannot impersonate the fragile Japanese manner, her singing was more than compensation for this slight dramatic flaw. Her entire second act was one golden voice, maddeningly sweet and haunting, climaxed by the heartbreaking silence of the night long watch.

Charles Kullman, as B. F. Pinkerton, has such dynamic stage presence, that though his first act was practically his all, he established such a real Pinkerton that it seemed logical for the rest of the tragic action to evolve as it did. He has a secure vocalism, and marvelous power. The duet with Albanese "O Kindly Heavens" richly deserved bravos and his biggest applause from the audience. He closed his role in the third act with a fine show of remorse.

Lucielle Browning, as Suzuki, sang the "Duet of Flowers" with Albanese. In that and also in the third act she showed a wonderfully resonant mezzo-soprano. In the trio "Naught Can Console Her," her voice was rich in its pathos.

John Brownlee made a very nice looking and ingratiating Sharpless who carried off the letter scene impressively. Alesio de Paolis as Goro, Osie Hawkins as the fiery Uncle Priest, and lovely Maxine Stellman as Kate Pinkerton filled their small roles very well. The angelic child, who quite won the hearts of the audience with her docility and calm in the midst of the exciting voices, was Nancy Hammond, daughter of Lillian Nicols of the chorus.

Orchestra Praised

Cesare Sodero, conducting the fine symphony, lost none of the nuances of Puccini's score. The lush unison of the violins, the subtlety of the Oriental fragments written in the score for tiny dramatic moments, was used to such advantage by the intelligent conductor. The insistence of the five-tone motif of the Intermezzo closing the second act tensioned the vision of the waiting Butterfly. Throughout the entire opera Mr. Sodero's interpretation was a pillar of strength and inspiration for the cast.

Expecting a visual spectacle from the Metropolitan Grand Opera, many of the audience were shocked at the discrepancy between the thrilling voices and the tawdry sets and costumes of "Carmen" and the set of "Madama Butterfly." Particularly the first scene of the latter with its over-pruned cherry tree and blatant chrysanthemum pieces. There was nothing to suggest faintly the delicacy of the Japanese home and art. For such beautiful music both nights we are grateful, but we hope that when the Metropolitan returns it will be clothed to suit its talent.

Inasmuch as there were thousands who wanted to hear this renowned company and could not because of space limitation, we hope also, that the sponsors led by I. L. Myers and Arts Appreciation, will find it feasible to bring them back next year.



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