[Met Performance] CID:158540
Madama Butterfly {310} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/6/1952.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 6, 1952


MADAMA BUTTERFLY {310}
Puccini-Illica/Giacosa

Cio-Cio-San.............Dorothy Kirsten
Pinkerton...............Giacinto Prandelli
Suzuki..................Mildred Miller
Sharpless...............Frank Valentino
Goro....................Alessio De Paolis
Bonze...................Norman Scott
Yamadori................George Cehanovsky
Kate Pinkerton..........Anne Bollinger
Commissioner............Algerd Brazis

Conductor...............Fausto Cleva

Director................Désiré Defrère
Set designer............Joseph Urban

Madama Butterfly received twelve performances this season.

Review of James Hinton Jr. in the January 15, 1952 issue of Musical America

The first "Madama Butterfly" of the Metropolitan season came as a Sunday evening benefit for the Mizrachi Women's Organization. Two of the leading roles were taken by familiar exponents-the title role by Dorothy Kirsten and Sharpless by Frank Valentino-with Giacinto Prandelli singing his first Pinkerton here. Mildred Miller was also new as Suzuki, as were Norman Scott as the Bonze and Algerd Brazis as the Imperial Commissioner, and Fausto Cleva conducted the opera for the first time at the Metropolitan. Alessio de Paolis and George Cehanovsky were familiar as Goro and Prince Yamadori. Desiré Defrère was the stage director.

The Metropolitan's "Madama Butterfly" settings are far from being new and were never supremely good, but this year they had been furbished, rearranged here and there, and partly relighted. The changes, mostly minor, were all for the good, and the management had apparently found time to allow Mr. Defrère to rearrange some of the chorus movement for the better. Although the relatives of Butterfly still crouched behind their parasols in a phalanx-like semicircle while being introduced to the prospective bridegroom, much of the other action had been somewhat clarified-particularly that surrounding the Bonze's entrance.

The only annoying innovation was a new galaxy of fireflies for the end of the first act. The old-time lightning bugs were stationary-part of the backdrop it seemed-and went on and off in a monotonously regular pattern. The new ones are apparently attached to two long, flexible poles, which are moved up and down by stagehands behind the backdrop. For a while the darting effect they produced was very pretty and almost natural looking, but the poles themselves became more and more discernible as the stage lights were lowered and the pattern of lights looked about as unspontaneous and incredible as before. Maybe the Metropolitan should try giving "Madama Butterfly" without insects.

But whatever the shortcomings of the production as it now stood, it may safely be said (without going very far overboard) that Mr. Defrère's "Madama Butterfly" looked much better than it has in recent seasons at the Metropolitan.

By far the finest individual achievement was that of Miss Kirsten, whose Butterfly was again one of the most completely- and intelligently - conceived and delivered performances to be seen at the Metropolitan. She was in really excellent voice, perhaps not as light and virginally pure as when she first came to the company, but warmer, richer and capable of a perceptibly wider range of expressive coloration. From her entrance (in which she elected not to sing the optional D flat) to her death she gave a performance so rich in meaning, so apposite in action, so freshly feminine, so moving in detail and in total effect that it could only be described as of the first class in every regard.

Only a few bits of business were disturbing-unduly nervous darting here, an unmotivated pose there. But why, since Miss Kirsten chooses to make her Hari-Kiri in full view, does she disconcert the audience by wrapping the white scarf around her neck after she has plunged the knife into her midriff ?

Mr. Prandelli looked personable enough in his Navy whites and blues (somebody should get him to take the stripes off the whites and the shoulder-boards off the blues, though) and sounded better than he has in the other roles he has assumed here. His singing, always tasteful and musical, drew rich dividends from Puccini's orchestration and, no doubt, from Victor de Sabata's coaching in preparation for the new "Madama Butterfly" at La Scala in Milan last spring. He was completely at home in the musical aspects of the role and in the last act sang out with freedom of emotion that he had not shown here before. He was also at home on the stage-perhaps too much so, since his movement tended to be soggy and unemphatic. His lackadaisical acting was especially frustrating in the love duet. He just didn't seem very interested physically and his concurrent lack of vocal punch cheated the climax.

Miss Miller was bright, attractive and always dramatically believable as Suzuki (although it is a matter for debate whether so youthful a Suzuki makes as good a foil for Butterfly as does an older, more settled figure). She sang meaningfully and with beautiful tone that she blended sensitively with Miss Kirsten's. Mr. Valentino's Sharpless had its familiar merits of easy deportment and assured, authoritative delivery, but he was in exceedingly tight and unlovely voice.

Mr. De Paolis sang out cleanly as Goro and gave his usual marvellously detailed and pungent impersonation and Mr. Cehanovsky was his usual sympathetic Yamadori. Mr. Scott's Bonze was something of a cipher. He did not deliver his imprecations with very much theatrical force, and he seemed under-rehearsed in the business of the part, making a lamentable botch of his exit. Miss Bollinger looked far too lovely to be the wife of a caddish lieutenant and sang her few lines as well as they ever are sung.

Mr. Cleva's reading of the score placed high on the list of his accomplishments at the Metropolitan. He kept Puccini's "japonaiserie" clean as a whistle, chose admirably singable tempos and generally molded a performance of striking dramatic and musical values.



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