Puccini Madama Butterfly (DVD)
Maria José Siri, Carlos Álvarez, Bryan Hymel, Annalisa Stroppa; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly; dir. Alvis Hermanis
Decca DVD: 074 3982 167 mins
Visually, this is an attractive but essentially conventional Madama Butterfly from La Scala. Aurally, however, there are surprises as Riccardo Chailly has reverted to the original version, unperformed at the Milanese theatre since it was booed off the stage in 1904. Puccini tinkered with the score repeatedly, so why revert to the version that received such a catastrophic reception? There are undoubtedly passages of juvenile stylistic autopilot here that Puccini was right to cut. We can do without the protracted ‘business’ at the wedding, not to mention a rather trite hiatus where Cio-Cio San gets cold feet in the middle of the glorious love duet. But it’s genuinely fascinating to hear what the first-night audience would have heard, and certain aspects of the drama come across as more hard-hitting in this version. (With no remorseful tenor aria at the end, Pinkerton becomes an out-and-out rat.)
The sets and costumes are like those of countless other Madama Butterfly productions, but the superb musical and dramatic performances make this DVD well worth seeking out. Maria José Siri, a Uruguayan soprano who first came to international attention in this very production, is a revelation as Butterfly, blessed both with power and a particular purity in the upper range. She brings a nuanced assortment of emotions to the role: a hint of cheeky flirtation at the beginning; an unwavering poise as Sharpless tries to break the bad news; utter joy with her son. There is a plausible chemistry between her and Bryan Hymel’s deceptively amiable Pinkerton, and the American gives a velvety, ardent, apparently effortless vocal performance. This Butterfly-with-a-twist is up with the best of them in terms of emotional impact.