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Concert Review: Madama Butterfly

By Erica Pfister
Staff Reporter

Written by Giacomo Puccini

Directed by Seiji Ozawa

Concert Staging by David Kneuss

Set Design by John Michael Deegan and Sarah G. Conly

Costumes by Hanae Mori and Malabar Limited

Performances: February 20, 24, 27

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, 8:00 p.m.

Tickets $27 to $75

Broadcast on WCRB 102.5 FM

There are few things that Ilike more than getting the chance to see a live symphony performance. The Boston Symphony's rendition of Puccini's Madama Butterflywas indeed very enjoyable. Conducted by Seiji Ozawa, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary with the BSO, the symphony and singers performed a spectacular show.

The plot of Butterfly is based on an actual occurrence between an American naval officer and a Japanese geisha in the 1890's. In Puccini's adaptation, American naval lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton arranged his wedding to Cio-Cio-San, better known as "Madama Butterfly." Prior to and even during his wedding to her, he does nothing but wax eloquent to the American Consul Sharpless about his adventures with women in every port and long for the day when he has a "real wedding"with an American wife.

When "Butterfly"is introduced, the audience learns that she had to become a geisha to support herself when her father committed hara-kiri (honorable suicide by disembowelment). Now at the age of fifteen, she is entering a marriage arranged through a broker. Her relatives have come along to support her marriage, while her husband-to-be comments in asides that he can not wait for the family to leave so he can be alone with "Butterfly." He expresses his lust in poetic terms of love to his bride, and Sharpless warns him that she believes every word he says to her.

In the second act, Cio-Cio-San has been abandoned for three years yet is still steadfast in her belief that her husband will return to their home soon. She had renounced her entire former lifeto join her husband's life, and soundly believes that she is an American wife living in an American home with her American son. Suitors and the American consul try in vain to convince her that she is misled.

When Pinkerton does return, Cio-Cio-San is convinced that her faith has not been in vain. Cheerfully she decorates her house and prepares it for him, only to stay awake all night waiting for him to come back. When Pinkerton is told how wistfully his Butterfly had watched the harbor for the return of his ship, he is so ashamed that he refuses to talk to her. He leaves his wife Kate with Cio-Cio-San's maid to reveal the news that they wish to take her son back to America with them. When he does come up to the house, Butterfly has killed herself; "better to die with honor than live with shame."

The overall story is simple and straightforward, but the music makes the tragedy even more touching. Puccini's opera does a splendid job of highlighting the tragic betrayal of a poor fifteen-year-old girl's trust and love. The scenery and costuming of the performance were also very well done, giving the stage an exquisite Oriental taste. Strong singers bring the characters and story to life, and overall make Butterfly a wonderful experience.