Un Bel Di (Madame Butterfly)
Time: beginning of 20th century; Place: Nagasaki, Japan
Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a young U.S. Navy lieutenant, has arranged with Goro, a marriage broker, to acquire a fifteen-year-old Japanese bride, Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). Pinkerton takes a 999-year lease on a home overlooking Nagasaki harbor; this lease, as well as his marriage, can conveniently be canceled on a month’s notice. Sharpless, the American Consul and a friend of Pinkerton’s, arrives to witness the wedding. He warns Pinkerton not to treat the marriage lightly, as his bride-to-be is truly in love with him. Though Pinkerton claims to be infatuated with Butterfly, he proposes a toast to the American woman he will one day wed. Butterfly arrives for her wedding. She tells Sharpless that her family was once wealthy, but hard times forced her to become a geisha.
After she admits that her father is dead, Goro tells Pinkerton that he committed ritual suicide at the Mikado’s command. Butterfly’s relatives arrive, and the wedding proceeds. The festivities are interrupted as the Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle and a Buddhist priest, enters to denounce her for forsaking their ancestral religion. Pinkerton angrily orders the guests to leave. He comforts the distraught Butterfly, and the newlyweds proclaim their love.
Pinkerton has been gone from Nagasaki for three years. Suzuki, Butterfly’s devoted maid, fears that he will not keep his promise to return; yet Butterfly confidently and patiently awaits his homecoming. Sharpless arrives to read Butterfly a letter he received from Pinkerton, who has since taken an American wife. Goro, who ushers in Prince Yamadori, a potential suitor for Butterfly, interrupts him. When Sharpless finally reads Pinkerton’s letter to Butterfly, she gradually realizes that she has been abandoned. She sends for her young son, Sorrow, sure that Pinkerton will return when he learns that he has a son. Butterfly insists that she would rather die than be a geisha again. Suddenly, a cannon booms in the harbor, signaling the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship. Butterfly and Suzuki decorate the house and await Pinkerton’s return in an all-night vigil.
Pinkerton, his wife Kate, and Sharpless arrive at Butterfly’s house. They ask Suzuki to tell Butterfly that they wish to take Sorrow to live with them in America. Butterfly enters, anxiously seeking Pinkerton, but he has fled in remorse. She meets Kate, and reluctantly agrees to surrender her child if Pinkerton will come for him in half an hour. Solemnly, Butterfly prepares for death. After bidding farewell to Sorrow, she commits suicide. Pinkerton rushes into the house, only to find Butterfly dead.
(from New York City Opera Web site)
Giacomo Puccini (1856-1924): Brief Biography
Puccini was born in Lucca (Italy), a member of a large family of musicians going back to the early 18th century. His first job, at age 14, was as organist to the two churches of Lucca; but he quickly became more interested in opera (especially Verdi) than church music. He studied at the musical conservatory in Milan (1880-83), and there he came into contact with a group of Milanese artists, called the Scapigliati, who lived the Bohemian lifestyle. This group included the great librettist Arrigo Boito (himself a composer whose opera Mefistofele is still popular today).
Puccini wrote his first opera, Le villi (willi were vampire-like witches in East-European legend), a “dramatic legend,” in 1884. It was successful, and was played at the La Scala opera house in Milan the next year. His second opera, Edgar, a “lyric drama” (1889), was a failure; his third, Manon Lescaut (1893), which story Massenet had set with international acclaim in 1884, was reasonably well received, and most importantly established him on the international operatic scene. (The work begins in Amiens (France), moves to Le Havre, and finishes up in the “Louisiana desert”!)
I adore this opera and I could watch it over and over again and never get tired. The sweetness and the simplicity of the story and the love between two inspired souls is a joy to watch.
La Bohème (1896) was at first less successful than Manon Lescaut, perhaps because its subject was too realistic, its tone in many places too light-hearted and somewhat sentimental, and was thus compared unfavorably by the critics (see below) to the Romantic-tragic character of Manon. However, it came to be recognized as the masterpiece historynow judges it to be.
They always call me Mimi,
I know not why!
I make myself dinner.
I don’t attend mass often,
but I pray to the Lord frequently.
I live by myself, all alone,
in my little white room.
I look upon the roofs and the sky.But when the thaw comes,the first warmth of the sun is mine,
the first kiss of April is mine!
In a vase a Rosebud blooms,
I watch as petal by petal unfolds,
with its delicate fragrance of a flower!
But the flowers that I sew,
alas, have no fragrance.
There’s nothing more
I can tell you about myself.
I am your neighbour, who knocks
at your door so late disturbing
you at inopportune moment.
Schaunard — (from the courtyard)
Oh, beautiful maiden,…
He’s found his poetry!
…Oh, how sweet your face looks,
its beauty softly kissed by the
In you, sweet maiden,
I see the dreams of love I have
dreamt about forever.
(encircling Mimì in his arms)
Mimì — (much affected)
Ah! Love, only you alone guide us!
Such sweet love invades my soul.
I feel such joy, and love so tender.
Our kisses tremble with love.
Mimì — (much affected)
Ah! Love, only you alone guide us!
(Almost letting go)
“O mio babbino caro” (“Oh My Beloved Father”) is a soprano aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi (1918) by Giacomo Puccini to a libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. It is sung by Lauretta after tensions between her father Schicchi and the family of Rinuccio, the boy she loves, have reached a breaking point that threatens to separate her from Rinuccio. It provides an interlude expressing lyrical simplicity and single-hearted love in contrast with the atmosphere of hypocrisy, jealousy, double-dealing, and feuding in the medieval Florence of Puccini’s only comedy. It provides the only set-piece in the through-composed opera.
Florence Easton as Lauretta at the world premiere of Gianni Schicchi, 14 December 1918
The aria was first performed at the premiere of Gianni Schicchi on 14 December 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York by the popular Edwardian English soprano Florence Easton. It has been sung subsequently by many sopranos. Dame Joan Hammond won a Gold Record in 1969 for 1 million sold copies of this aria.
The Lyrics are:
Oh my dear father,
I like him, he is very handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
to buy the ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!
I am pining and I am tormented,
Oh God! I would want to die!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
First performed in1900 he produced Tosca, a work portraying brutality, sadism, and searing emotions– his first attempt at “realist” opera (verismo)– to tremendous public acclaim. His next opera, in 1904, Madama Butterfly, was centered upon a marriage in Japan, entered into in all sincerity by a geisha girl and callously by an U.S. naval lieutenant, with devastating consequences to which we are perhaps more attuned in our post-colonial age. Its first performance on Feb 17 was a fiasco with the audience jeering and calling out sarcastic comments. Puccini withdrew the work and revised it, for its second première on May 28, 1904.Setting: Rome, 1800
Inside the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, an escaped Roman prisoner, Cesare Angelotti, bursts through the doors seeking refuge. After he finds a place to hide within the private Attavanti chapel, an old sacristan appears followed by the painter, Mario Cavaradossi. Mario picks up w
here he left off the day before and resumes painting a picture of Mary Magdalene. With blonde locks of hair, Mario’s painting is based on
Angelotti’s sister, Marchesa Attavanti. Mario has never met Marchesa, but he has seen her about town. As he paints, he takes a small statue of Floria Tosca, a singer and his lover, from his pocket to compare her beauty to that of his painting. After the sacristan mutters disapproval of the painting, he leaves. The escaped prisoner, Angelotti, emerges from his hiding place to speak with Mario. The two have been friends for quite some time and share similar political beliefs. Mario happily greets him and gives him food and drink before quickly pushing him back into hiding as Tosca can be heard approaching the chapel.
Tosca is a jealous woman and she takes no effort to hide it. She questions Mario about his faithfulness and love to her before reminding him of their planned rendezvous later that evening. It only takes one look of the painting to send Tosca into a fit of rage. She instantly recognizes the woman in Mario’s painting as Marchesa Attavanti. After a bit of explaining and consoling, Mario is able to calm Tosca down. When she leaves the chapel, Angelotti reappears to tell Mario of his planned escape. Mid-explanation, cannons are heard in the distance signaling Angelotti’s escape has been discovered. The two men quickly flee to Mario’s villa. The sacristan reenters the church followed by a group of choristers that are to sing a Te Deum later that day. It isn’t long until the chief of the secret police, Scarpia, and his men rush into the church. The old sacristan is questioned, but the officers are unable to get their answers. When Tosca enters the church again, Scarpia shows her a fan with the Attavanti family crest inscribed on it. Flying into another fit of jealousy, Tosca vows vengeance and rushes to Mario’s villa to confront him with his lies. Scarpia, always suspicious of Mario, sends his men to follow Tosca. He then begins to craft a plan to kill Mario and have his way with Tosca.
In Scarpia’s apartment above the Farnese Palace that evening, Scarpia sets his plan into motion and sends a note to Tosca asking her to join him for dinner. Since Scarpia’s men were not able to find Angelotti, they bring Mario in for questioning instead. Tosca can be heard singing downstairs as Mario is questioned. When Tosca arrives, Mario instructs her not to say anything before he is taken into another room for torture. Scarpia tells Tosca that she can save Mario from unimaginable pain if she agrees to tell him where Angelotti is hiding. For a while Tosca remains strong and tells Scarpia nothing. However, when Mario’s cries become louder and more desperate, she gives in and tells Scarpia their secret. When Mario is brought back into the room, he becomes furious after finding out Tosca had given Scarpia Angelotti’s location. Suddenly, it’s announced that Napoleon has won the battle at Marengo – a blow to Scarpia’s side, and Mario shouts, “Victory!” Scarpia immediately seizes him and has his men throw him in prison. Finally alone with Tosca, Scarpia tells her she can save her lover’s life if she agrees to give herself to him. Tosca breaks free from his advances and sings, “Vissi d’arte.” Her whole life she has dedicated to art and love, and for what? To be rewarded with grief and misfortune? Tosca prays to the Lord. Spolleta, one of Scarpia’s men, enters the room and tells him that Angelotti killed himself. Scarpia declares that Mario must be executed too unless Tosca gives in to his advances. If she does, Scarpia will stage a mock execution. Tosca finally agrees to the plan on the condition that he will provide safe passage for the two lovers to flee. Scarpia agrees and gives orders to Spolleta that the execution will be fake, before signing the contract the two have drafted. Spolleta shakes his head in acknowledgement and leaves. As Scarpia approaches her for an embrace, she takes out a knife she swiped from his dinner table and stabs him to death. After taking the signed document from his lifeless hands, she places candles next to his body and lays a crucifix on his chest.
Early before sunrise in the Castel Sant’Angelo, Mario is told he has only one hour of life left. He refuses council with a priest and writes a letter to his beloved Tosca instead. Mario is unable to complete his letter due to a surge of emotion. Moments later Tosca rushes in to tell him all that has happened after he was taken away. Mario, overjoyed, sings to Tosca that her sweet and soft hands have had to kill a man for Mario’s life. Tosca explains that the execution will be fake, but he must give a believable performance in order for them to escape freely. Mario is taken away and Tosca is left waiting impatiently. As the execution is carried out and the guns are fired, Mario falls to the ground. Tosca shouts out, happy with his flawless performance. Once everyone leaves, she rushes to Mario to hug him, overjoyed with the new life ahead of them. She tells him to hurry as they must flee town before Scarpia’s body is discovered, but Mario does not move. When she bends down to him, she realizes he is dead. Scarpia has betrayed her from beyond the grave. Real bullets were used.
Out of great heartbreak, she throws herself over his body and weeps. Cries are heard in the distance when Scarpia’s body is discovered. Spolleta and a legion of officers swarm the castle to arrest Tosca. Tosca evades them, and with one last cry, hurls herself out of the castle and plummets to her death.
After these two productions, Puccini was embroiled in a domestic crisis and scandalous court case in 1909. Puccini’s jealous wife accused him of having had an intimate affair with his servant girl, Doria, who in 1909 committed suicide. From the autopsy evidence, Doria and Puccini were exonerated, but the experience took its toll on the very sensitive composer.
In 1907, he composed The Girl of the Golden West, a very different sort of opera, set in California during the gold rush era, which was successfully premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1910. Soon after this, Puccini began to be criticized by a new generation of Italian composers for his “bourgeois mentality, lack of ideals, and pure commercialism” (New Grove) — charges which in some quarters still haunt him at the present day. Joseph Kerman, for example, in his book Opera as Drama (1956), spoke of Tosca as “that shabby little shocker.”
His final opera, the lavish, exotic, fairy-tale Turandot, was unfinished at his death in 1924, but was completed and premiered in 1926, and remains one of his most admired works.
If you would like to know more about Puccini and his operas check out NYC Opera House
One of the best-loved, most frequently performed, recorded, and filmed of all operas, La Traviata recounts in music the tragic love story that has melted hearts for over 150 years.
La Traviata features one of opera’s best-loved soprano roles and one of the most psychologically complex characters in opera.
“That unspoken love, the pulse of the whole world, mysterious, unattainable, the torment and delight of my heart.” — Alfredo
Based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life courtesan whose lover, Alexandre Dumas, wrote the novel and the play on which Verdi based his opera.
“The pleasures of love are as swift and fleeting as a flower that lives and dies and can be enjoyed no more.”
In the elegant, but shadowy Parisian demi-monde of the mid-1800s, Violetta, a beautiful, but fragile courtesan, gives up the pursuit of meaningless pleasure in high society for the love of a younger man, Alfredo.
Together they begin life anew in the country, but their happiness is shattered by Alfredo’s father, who learns of Violetta’s unsuitable past and pressures her to break off the relationship for the sake of the family’s reputation. She does so with great misgiving, and Alfredo believes she has merely thrown him over. Much later he learns of her sacrifice and forgives her, but it is too late. Poverty-stricken and desperately ill, Violetta dies in his arms.
One of the best drinking songs ever written, Brindisi: “Liabiamo, libiamo ne ‘lieti calicci!”
Alfredo’s “Un dì felice” singing of his love: “I loved you from the first day… Mysterious power of love,” and Violetta’s reply.
Violetta’s irresistible pledge to pleasure: “Sempre libera degg’io.”
La traviata. By Verdi. Opera Australia. Director: Francesca Zambello. Conductor: Brian Castles-Onion. Mrs Macquarie’s Point, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. March 24.
OPERA Australia’s Lyndon Terracini is a fearless, ambitious artistic director. He argues that opera has to be presented in different ways and appeal to new audiences if it is to survive.
Staging an open-air opera on Sydney Harbour is one of the paths he has chosen. It was a risk, with enormous technical and logistical challenges to overcome. The company had to ensure that musical quality didn’t take second place to mere spectacle.
The great baritone-soprano duet between the senior Germont and Violetta, which some call the quintessential Verdi duet.
In her Paris salon, the courtesan, Violetta Valery, greets party guests, including Flora Bervoix, the Marquis d’Obigny, Baron Douphol, and Gastone, who introduces a new admirer, Alfredo Germont. This young man, having adored Violetta from afar, joins her in a drinking song (Brindisi: “Libiamo”). An orchestra is heard in the next room, but as guests move there to dance, Violetta suffers a fainting spell, sends the guests on ahead, and goes to her parlour to recover. Alfredo comes in, and since they are alone, confesses his love (“Un di felice”). At first Violetta protests that love means nothing to her. Something about the young man’s sincerity touches her, however, and she promises to meet him the next day. After the guests have gone, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the man she could love (“Ah, fors’è lui”). But she decides she wants freedom (“Sempre libera”), though Alfredo’s voice, heard outside, argues in favour of romance.
Courtesy of Opera News
THE POWER OF PATERNAL LOVE
By Rory Runnells
“A desert called Paris” is what Violetta, the most famous courtesan of Paris high life in the 1850’s, calls her city. Then love, the thing that musn’t enter into the equation of sex and money engulfs her. The country becomes her garden retreat of happiness until the overbearing force of middle-class convention forces her return to the desert of the city of lights, and her death. Violetta is ill with tuberculosis, but her physical affliction is no worse than society’s rigid code; her body is destroyed by one, but her soul is eaten by the other. There is remorse at the end from those whose “best intentions” destroyed her happiness, but all is too late to save her. Guiseppe Verdi took a chance with this story. It was a contemporary event, based on Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel about the real Violetta, Marguerite Gauthier, transformed into Camille, the lady of the camellias. Few dramatic operas were based on contemporary plots, let alone on characters which the middle-class audience might identify as themselves on stage: no kings or queens, no mythology, no distance of the past, instead, gaslight and upholstered rooms.
On Violetta’s Side Verdi was too great an artist not to infuse all his characters, good and bad, with humanity, but with Violetta there is no equivocation of motive. If there is selfless love, here it is. He’s on Violetta’s side, and you will be as well. We don’t think of it now, but one radical aspect about La Traviata initially, was its setting. It was a contemporary story, circa 1850, and though comedies were often set in the time of the audience, most serious operas were not. There is no distancing of another period, no kings or nobility of any kind (except for the ultimate nobility of spirit in Violetta), no witches, or anything else which seems “exotic.” This is a middle-class world which tolerates Violetta in her place, but destroys her when she dares to leave it. Its failure at the premiere was due to many reasons, but perhaps the setting was partially to blame; indeed, when it was later revived, the setting was often changed to the time of Louis X1V.
But the centre of the work isn’t a loud denunciation of the society’s hypocrisy towards certain women. As ever with Verdi, it is the relationships that matter. At the heart of La Traviata is the relationship between Violetta and her, at first rigid accuser, then defender (up to a point anyway), Germont, whose son has taken up with Violetta. He becomes her spiritual father, and though he follows society’s code in demanding her sacrifice of giving up Alfredo, they become another in the great line of Verdi’s father/daughter relationships. In fact, that relationship is what drew Verdi to the subject. He wasn’t interested in the story, however moving the subject, of a dying prostitute. It was the concerned, angry father of Alfredo who becomes the concerned, loving father of Violetta which drew him to want to write the opera. The swirl of the party world which goes on even as Violetta dies; the private anguish of a family, both biological, as with Germont and Alfredo, and chosen, as with Germont and Violetta; and, above all, private love clashing, and losing, to society’s demands: this is the greatness of La Traviata.
We are on Violetta’s side, I wrote earlier, in this, Verdi’s most intimate opera, where a father can discover, to his surprise, a spiritual child, and a “fallen” woman can rise above the spiritual desert of Paris to be embraced in paternal love.
The heavenly Voice of Jeanette Mac Donald