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10 July, 2006

Grand Opera - Madame Butterfly - Emotional Acting and Singing

"Madame Butterfly" at Her Majesty's Theatre

Saturday 21st July 1928

Puccini's rich vein of melody in "Madame Butterfly" charmed a great house at Her Majesty's Theatre on Saturday night. The music of this opera, of extremely emotional and yet so graceful, with voices and orchestra blended in eloquent harmonies, is among the most popular as well as the most attractive written by the composer, and Saturday night's fine cast gave admirable expression to its moods, particularly in the famous love duet of Butterfly and Pinkerton at the close of the first act, and the last tragic scene of all, in which the Japanese girl's realisation of her base desertion by Pinkerton leads to her death. Signor Pugazzola, who conducted, showed pronounced temperament, for though in parts of the first act and on occasions in the second his tempos were rather studied, and the orchestra was now and then too loud for the singers, he gave an admirably animated and sincere reading of the principal events of the second act, and of the poignant final scenes of the opera.

Senorita Hina Spani sounded the true note of tragedy in these last scenes. While the artist was mature in the role of Butterfly, one completely forgot this fact in the power and beauty of her acting and singing. Surely the closing moments of the hapless Butterfly's life have never been portrayed with greater pathos or conviction. It was a singular and moving interpretation, and distinguished at the same time for perfect artistic restraint. All concerned in the events immediately leading up to this climax furnished worthy support to the heroine, and Signor Angelo Minghetti's cry of bitter remorse as Pinkerton rushed in upon the tragedy as the curtain fell, was very real. Many recalls here and after the previous acts marked a high note of enthusiasm on the part of the audience.

Signor Minghetti's Pinkerton was marked for the most part by the well-judged fervour which has distinguished the artist's studies of character this season. He was rather too serious in the first part of the opera, however, and his reading of "Dovunque al mondo" missed the care-free spirit of this solo, so curiously interrupted by the naval officer's invitation to his friend Sharpless to have a drink. Pinkerton at this point, regarding the whole business of the Japanese marriage as a mere adventure, is toasting the day on which he shall wed an American wife. Signor Minghetti, on the other hand, appeared rather concerned, and even worried, his demeanour implying that Pinkerton was already ashamed of the cowardly plan upon which he had embarked, in which "the frail wings of Butterfly" were to be broken. Except for this, be gave an excellent study of the role, and his acting in the last scene was brilliant.

The celebrated love duet which forms the climax to the first act, following the marriage celebration, was magnificently sung by Senorita Spani and Signor Minghetti. Beginning with the tenor's impassioned "Bimba dagli occhi," the duet went on, supported by glowing themes for the orchestra, sustained in a wonderfully constructed web of tone in one of the most fervent scenes written by Puccini. The spirit of the situation was faithfully conveyed by the singers and orchestra, the curtain failing with the enthusiasm of the people breaking in upon the rich ensemble. Senorita Spani, coming on at the head of her group of attendant maidens at her first entrance across the bridge-a picturesque setting overlooking the harbour of Nagasaki, with great groups of cherry blossom giving added colour to the spectacle - depicted artistically the timidity of Butterfly, and her terror at her denunciations by the Bonze. Butterfly's first solo was given with great charm - indeed, all her music was notable by its expression and warmth of colour.

There is no overture to "Madame Butterfly," its place being taken by the bright, vivacious introduction, in which the theme is gaily announced, first by the leading strings, and caught up in turn by the second violins, violas, and ‘cellos. This introduction leads at once to the first conversation in which Pinkerton discusses his new house with Goro - the marriage broker, a character skilfully and animatedly impersonated by Signor Luigi Cilla. The orchestra developed piquantly for the most part all the captivating themes of this scene, and of the marriage celebration, enunciating also the sombre phases of the story, first hinted at in Butterfly's Song of the Mission. The work of the chorus was also highly effective.

Signorina Ida Mannarini was an excellent Suzuki, giving this role an importance histrionically which it has not always attained. Her share of the jubilant duet of the second act, in which Butterfly and her maid, excited at the prospect of Pinkerton's return, scattered the cherry blossom about the room - one of the most charming melodies of the score - furnished worthy support to the soprano. Signor Emilio Ghiardini was a capital Sharpless, appropriately easy in manner, and singing his music resonantly and with remarkably clear diction. One of the features of the night was the delivery of the trio in the last act - for Suzuki, Pinkerton, and Sharpless. Miss Dora Warby appeared in this scene as the American wife of Pinkerton, an attractive figure in her modern gown. Little Nellie Melba Tornari was the child Trouble, who is carried in by Butterfly to confront the dejected Sharpless, while the orchestra plunges into an ensemble of triumph.

The Attendance

The performance was witnessed by a large audience, which included the Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, Lady de Chair, and members of their party, among whom were Lady Street, Miss Chamberlain, and Mrs Watson Holdship.

Lady deChair wore a gown of midnight blue under her evening cloak of Parma violet georgette, which was patterned with a deeper shade of violet, and had a velvet collar of the deeper shade also. Lady Street covered her gown with a coat of oriental lame trimmed with fur. Mrs Watson Holdship and Miss Chamberlain were both frocked in black. Tote dal Monte and her fiancé, Signor de Muro Lomanto, were present in the manager's box. They arrived after the performance had begun, and as soon as the lights went up after the conclusion of the act the crowd quickly recognised them. It was the signal for great applause, which Toti acknowledged with many bows, hand waves, and throwing of kisses. Lomanto also came to the edge of the box and acknowledged the congratulatory demonstration.

Toti dal Monte wore a frock of gold lame, trimmed with flowers on the corsage, Scavizzi in a frock of black, heavily embroidered in silver and rhinestones. Vere de Cristoff, Mr. John Brownlee, and his sister, Miss Brownlee were others in this party.

Among the audience were Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Hay, Mrs. Spencer Watts. Mrs. S. Hordern, Mrs. W. Watson, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Pope, Mr. and Mrs. Bert McDonald, Mr. and Mrs. T. Mutch, and Mr. and Mrs. Kelso King. Mrs E. W. Knox, Miss Barbara Knox, Miss Mary Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Denis Allen, Sir Hugh and Lady Denison, Mr. and Mrs. R. Denison, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brunton, Mrs. F de V. Lamb, Miss Consett Stephen, Sir Alexander and Lady MacCormick, Miss Morna MacCormick, Mrs. Gordon Wesche, Mr. and Mrs. Rabett, Mrs. Paterson, Miss Nan Garvan, Dr and Mrs. Crawford Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Sep Levy, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Eedy; Mrs. D. Maughan, Mrs. Hartley Sargent, Mrs.W. Holman, Mrs. Willie Anderson, and Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Marks.

Review found in The Sydney Morning Herald Monday July 23 1928

This is one of three reviews of the Melba - Williamson Tour of 1928 discovered under Dr.Byrnes surgery floor during renovations.