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MADAME BUTTERFLY ****** GIACOMO PUCCINI CAST: Cio-Cio-San: Ying Huang Pinkerton: Richard Troxell Suzuki: Ning Liang Sharpless: Richard Cowan Director: Frederic Mitterrand For those who don’t know how the story ends (probably rare, but certainly possible): this review does contain spoilers. All right, civic duty done :-). I will start with admitting that I liked this 1995 adaptation of Madame Butterfly so much I have actually seen it twice. Even though I by now pretty much know the score of this enchanting opera and strangely exact details of the plot by heart (yes, I am a nerd and proud of it, so there:-), it still moved me to tears and I ended up once again embarrassing myself (luckily was home alone, so only the house gnomes snickered at me in the corner). Even though this opera-based movie was filmed on location in Tunisia, it still does an excellent job of imitating 1904 Nagasaki. The tranquil scenery could be easily mistaken for that of Japan and complements the music quite well; the open set gives this production a much more realistic feel than when executed on stage. Even the performers are cast according to their specific type, matching the intended features of any given character not only in appearance, but also ethnicity.  The costumes and sets are kept classic, no modern twist, just kimonos, traditional hairdos and a fairly authentic looking Japanese dwelling. The movie certainly offers its viewers rich detail as far as decorations and props are concerned: a lot of interesting objects are featured all throughout the interior and exterior of the house. During the intermezzo we are even able to witness original historic footage depicting scenes from the lives of Japanese people from the period. This interlude comes as somewhat of a surprise and does not necessarily fit in with the rest of the concept; nonetheless I thought that this black and white clip constituted a rather interesting touch. If anything it represented a great improvement over staring at the ocean or some other vaguely suitable countryside object, usually shown with great relish to fill the screen in times of lacking action. Ying Huang as Madame Butterfly delivers a very subtle, understated performance which only serves to accentuate the delicate, china doll aura of the young geisha. Her vocal abilities would probably not be considered worthy of a diva extraordinaire (she mostly lacks volume despite a very pleasing lyric soprano), but they’re more than adequate for the needs of a film production. Especially combined with her appearance and demeanor. This artist could be considered the real deal: fresh, beautiful, equipped with a lovely voice. Indeed she plays the innocence and blind devotion of her character very convincingly, a modest and unspoiled child ready to renounce her family, religion and traditions for love. Richard Troxell portrays Pinkerton as a stereotypical happy-go-lucky American: hedonistic and egocentric. He is so in love with himself and set on fulfilling his immediate desires that he truly does not even give it a thought how his deeds might affect, possibly even destroy, somebody else. He is cruel in his selfishness, but not cruel on purpose. He would probably not consider any of his actions wicked or malicious, he sees himself as simply a guy trying to have some fun, getting instant gratification where he can. His performance echoes the different stages his persona goes through as his voice conveys tenderness and passion when called for; however occasionally it can also contain dismissive and rowdy notes, as well as ultimately those of immense pain. While watching this adaptation I realized relatively quickly, to my great delight, that the performers do not just stand there and belt out their arias, but are in fact really good actors! Their faces possess the capability to reflect all the different emotions you would expect in a seasoned professional. Particularly the scenes between Pinkerton and Butterfly are very intimate, atmospheric: the love duet (extending over several arias) contains a definite, heartbreakingly tragic undertone despite its initial outwardly joy and hope for a new beginning. It goes without saying that the musical part of this spectacle was conducted in the most excellent fashion. In the whole film I only noticed a few minor flaws which I thought slightly clashing or inappropriate. First of all there was the bizarre arrival of the flying uncle (yes, literally, the uncle was bellowing his curses mid-air, still have not figured out quite the symbolic meaning of that). And then in the final scenes the performers seemed to forego their realistic approach to the portrayed characters and launched into an impromptu bout of great theatrics, including a lot of desperate facial expressions and wild gesticulation (especially our good old Pinkerton appears slightly manic). I understand it’s all high drama, but you can’t just abandon the whole previous concept of the production and go in the opposite direction without it appearing a little over the top. I really loved Ying Huang’s interpretation of Un bel di vedremo: in this piece she completely transformed herself, for the first time became fierce and powerful in her confidence that her man would return to her, no matter what the whole world says. What she lacks in volume she certainly makes up for in the sheer intensity of her emotions. Also the scene when Pinkerton’s ship finally arrives sent shivers up and down my spine: with the Un bel motif playing once again it was excruciatingly painful to watch Cio-Cio-San’s happiness knowing full well about the impending doom and imminent betrayal. Damn you Pinkerton, you scoundrel piece of substance uncomplimentary! Last but not least I found the depiction of the final scene very unsettling and fascinating at the same time. The combination of Butterfly’s snow-white painted face already having the appearance of death while she is still alive, the flashbacks of her father who also died committing Seppuku and the fact that the camera focuses solely on her: she literally fills the entire screen (previously she was always shown as part of a composition, surrounded by props and scenery) does cause the viewer to drop his nonchalant air and sit up in feverish anticipation. And as Pinkerton desperately cries out her name, she stumbles out of the house and dies in his arms, with a last glimmer of happiness in her eyes because he cared after all, the story could not have been concluded any better. Well obviously it could have, but not if you wished to remain true to the libretto. Thanks Puccini, making us all cry (repeatedly, might I add), hope you’re proud of yourself! I would wholeheartedly recommend this romantic adaptation of the timeless piece as part of your at-home collection of operatic gems. Have there been other releases that are better sung or broadcast big names with more refined, more exquisite voices? Yes, certainly, but if you are looking for the whole package that feels like a real story and not just a vehicle to showcase the particular talents of the stars in a superficial setting then this is the one. So take out your hankies and prepare yourselves for some serious sniffling, sobbing, weeping or even a bit of wailing, depending on your personal cry- baby level. BUY ON AMAZON:
VIVA    LAS    VEGAS!!!  VIVA    LAS    VEGAS!!! VIVA    LAS    VEGAS!!! CARPE DIEM!!! CARPE DIEM!!! CARPE DIEM!!!
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MADAME BUTTERFLY ****** GIACOMO PUCCINI CAST: Cio-Cio-San: Ying Huang Pinkerton: Richard Troxell Suzuki: Ning Liang Sharpless: Richard Cowan Director: Frederic Mitterrand For those who don’t know how the story ends (probably rare, but certainly possible): this review does contain spoilers. All right, civic duty done :-). I will start with admitting that I liked this 1995 adaptation of Madame Butterfly so much I have actually seen it twice. Even though I by now pretty much know the score of this enchanting opera and strangely exact details of the plot by heart (yes, I am a nerd and proud of it, so there:-), it still moved me to tears and I ended up once again embarrassing myself (luckily was home alone, so only the house gnomes snickered at me in the corner). Even though this opera-based movie was filmed on location in Tunisia, it still does an excellent job of imitating 1904 Nagasaki. The tranquil scenery could be easily mistaken for that of Japan and complements the music quite well; the open set gives this production a much more realistic feel than when executed on stage. Even the performers are cast according to their specific type, matching the intended features of any given character not only in appearance, but also ethnicity.  The costumes and sets are kept classic, no modern twist, just kimonos, traditional hairdos and a fairly authentic looking Japanese dwelling. The movie certainly offers its viewers rich detail as far as decorations and props are concerned: a lot of interesting objects are featured all throughout the interior and exterior of the house. During the intermezzo we are even able to witness original historic footage depicting scenes from the lives of Japanese people from the period. This interlude comes as somewhat of a surprise and does not necessarily fit in with the rest of the concept; nonetheless I thought that this black and white clip constituted a rather interesting touch. If anything it represented a great improvement over staring at the ocean or some other vaguely suitable countryside object, usually shown with great relish to fill the screen in times of lacking action. Ying Huang as Madame Butterfly delivers a very subtle, understated performance which only serves to accentuate the delicate, china doll aura of the young geisha. Her vocal abilities would probably not be considered worthy of a diva extraordinaire (she mostly lacks volume despite a very pleasing lyric soprano), but they’re more than adequate for the needs of a film production. Especially combined with her appearance and demeanor. This artist could be considered the real deal: fresh, beautiful, equipped with a lovely voice. Indeed she plays the innocence and blind devotion of her character very convincingly, a modest and unspoiled child ready to renounce her family, religion and traditions for love. Richard Troxell portrays Pinkerton as a stereotypical happy-go-lucky American: hedonistic and egocentric. He is so in love with himself and set on fulfilling his immediate desires that he truly does not even give it a thought how his deeds might affect, possibly even destroy, somebody else. He is cruel in his selfishness, but not cruel on purpose. He would probably not consider any of his actions wicked or malicious, he sees himself as simply a guy trying to have some fun, getting instant gratification where he can. His performance echoes the different stages his persona goes through as his voice conveys tenderness and passion when called for; however occasionally it can also contain dismissive and rowdy notes, as well as ultimately those of immense pain. While watching this adaptation I realized relatively quickly, to my great delight, that the performers do not just stand there and belt out their arias, but are in fact really good actors! Their faces possess the capability to reflect all the different emotions you would expect in a seasoned professional. Particularly the scenes between Pinkerton and Butterfly are very intimate, atmospheric: the love duet (extending over several arias) contains a definite, heartbreakingly tragic undertone despite its initial outwardly joy and hope for a new beginning. It goes without saying that the musical part of this spectacle was conducted in the most excellent fashion. In the whole film I only noticed a few minor flaws which I thought slightly clashing or inappropriate. First of all there was the bizarre arrival of the flying uncle (yes, literally, the uncle was bellowing his curses mid-air, still have not figured out quite the symbolic meaning of that). And then in the final scenes the performers seemed to forego their realistic approach to the portrayed characters and launched into an impromptu bout of great theatrics, including a lot of desperate facial expressions and wild gesticulation (especially our good old Pinkerton appears slightly manic). I understand it’s all high drama, but you can’t just abandon the whole previous concept of the production and go in the opposite direction without it appearing a little over the top. I really loved Ying Huang’s interpretation of Un bel di vedremo: in this piece she completely transformed herself, for the first time became fierce and powerful in her confidence that her man would return to her, no matter what the whole world says. What she lacks in volume she certainly makes up for in the sheer intensity of her emotions. Also the scene when Pinkerton’s ship finally arrives sent shivers up and down my spine: with the Un bel motif playing once again it was excruciatingly painful to watch Cio-Cio-San’s happiness knowing full well about the impending doom and imminent betrayal. Damn you Pinkerton, you scoundrel piece of substance uncomplimentary! Last but not least I found the depiction of the final scene very unsettling and fascinating at the same time. The combination of Butterfly’s snow-white painted face already having the appearance of death while she is still alive, the flashbacks of her father who also died committing Seppuku and the fact that the camera focuses solely on her: she literally fills the entire screen (previously she was always shown as part of a composition, surrounded by props and scenery) does cause the viewer to drop his nonchalant air and sit up in feverish anticipation. And as Pinkerton desperately cries out her name, she stumbles out of the house and dies in his arms, with a last glimmer of happiness in her eyes because he cared after all, the story could not have been concluded any better. Well obviously it could have, but not if you wished to remain true to the libretto. Thanks Puccini, making us all cry (repeatedly, might I add), hope you’re proud of yourself! I would wholeheartedly recommend this romantic adaptation of the timeless piece as part of your at-home collection of operatic gems. Have there been other releases that are better sung or broadcast big names with more refined, more exquisite voices? Yes, certainly, but if you are looking for the whole package that feels like a real story and not just a vehicle to showcase the particular talents of the stars in a superficial setting then this is the one. So take out your hankies and prepare yourselves for some serious sniffling, sobbing, weeping or even a bit of wailing, depending on your personal cry- baby level. BUY ON AMAZON:
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