I recently reviewed the Opus Arte DVD of Madama Butterfly, with Cheryl Barker as Cio-Cio-San and Edo De Waart conducting. This TDK effort is superior in practically every way. The Opus Arte was by no means a weak effort, mind you, even if it featured an odd stage production by Robert Wilson. This Zeffirelli creation is big, splashy, just the kind of thing you've come to expect from this versatile master. The lead singers, especially Fiorenza Cedolins and Marcello Giordani, are absolutely splendid. I can easily see how this Butterfly could become the DVD of choice among Puccini devotees. Indeed, I've even read comments on various websites hailing this as the definitive Butterfly on DVD. I wouldn't dispute the claim. I could even endorse it.
But why do I find myself a bit hesitant here? Is there something missing in this recording – something I can't quite put my finger on? I don't think so – it's as good an all-around effort of almost any opera as you'll encounter on disc. But, curiously, I was less moved by the production as it proceeded. The First Act was utterly splendid – I played the closing duet again and again and again. Maybe Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo did it better – I'd have to dust off my old LP set to refresh my memory. But if they did, they couldn't have been much better, so compelling were Cedolins and Giordani and the Oren-led orchestra, not to mention the brilliant camera work and splendid sets.
But the Second and Third Acts didn't move me in quite the same way. Perhaps their growing tension and ultimate tragedy are simply less convincing somehow, at least to me. Butterfly was Puccini's favorite of his operas and certainly I can understand the composer's bias. It is a great work. This production captures well both the brighter and darker aspects of it, and I would think most who love this opera will be enthralled with this production. The sound is excellent and Daniel Oren draws marvelous playing from the orchestra. I still scratch my head at my puzzlement over the latter half of the opera – maybe I've just become overexposed to the work of late with this and the Opus Arte version, or perhaps, dare I suggest, Butterfly doesn't wear as well as it should, no matter how excellent the performance. At any rate, most listeners should thoroughly enjoy this magnificent production.
Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings