The opera was written for La Scala in February 1904 and was booed heavily (and whistled at, the traditional sign of disapproval in Italian theatres). It was quickly withdrawn from the theatre’s schedule after that one performance. Puccini hastily made revisions, the second act was divided into two, making it a three-act opera, and in May of the same year it was staged in Brescia to great acclaim. He continued to revise the opera and the fifth version, completed in 1907, is the most commonly performed.
Chailly will perform the original version on 7 December 2016, La Scala’s glittering opening night.
I will bring to the stage something new which, in truth, is a return to the origin: Madama Butterfly will be staged not in the version that opera lovers know, but in its first version, which debuted here at La Scala in 1904 but was a resounding flop. Puccini rewrote it and it became a success. I won’t be conducting the successful Madama Butterfly, but the version that was booed and, since then, has never been performed.
While this is not true – various companies since have used the original version, including the New York City Opera in 1993 – it will be the first time it returns to La Scala. Simonetta Puccini, the Maestro’s granddaughter and only living descendent, is not happy.
It goes against my grandfather’s wishes. If I had been consulted I would have expressed my disagreement, but I no longer have a say: his operas are not under copyright anymore and any theatre can stage Madama Butterfly in the version they wish.
Talking to the gossip magazine Di Più – which pleasingly includes cultural articles between its pages on weddings, footballers and TV stars – asked Katia Ricciarelli what she thought.
It seems an interesting idea; a chance for opera fans to discover the version that Puccini had in his head from the start.
Mirella Freni, however, won’t be going,
I don’t want to hear this version as I love too much the other version of Butterfly, the one I sang, and the one that made me cry when I first heard it as a child.
Puccini’s revisions included cutting out many pages of music; Chailly says,
We must let this be heard.
Simonetta Puccini insists,
If the first version of Madama Butterfly is performed to a group of academics, as a curiosity, I wouldn’t mind. To perform it in the theatre is as if to say, ‘This is the authentic Madama Butterfly’. This is not true as the first version was disowned by my grandfather.
The Di più journalist, Oliviero Marchesi, finishes with a wry comment:
Who knows if, from heaven, Puccini will be applauding on rehearing it or if he’ll disown it once more, saying, ‘I was right to change it: I remain the best judge of my own music.’