[Met Performance] CID:127950

Madama Butterfly
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, February 9, 1940

Debut : Licia Albanese

Madama Butterfly (246)
Giacomo Puccini | Luigi Illica/ Giuseppe Giacosa
Licia Albanese [Debut]

Charles Kullman

Lucielle Browning

Richard Bonelli

Alessio De Paolis

Norman Cordon

George Cehanovsky

Kate Pinkerton
Maxine Stellman

Wilfred Engelman

Gennaro Papi

Désiré Defrère

Set Designer
Joseph Urban

Madama Butterfly received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Francis D. Perkins in the New York Herald Tribune

A New Butterfly

After an absence of nearly three years from this stage, Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" returned to the Metropolitan Opera House last night, and Licia Albanese, in an appealing impersonation of the ill-fated Cio-Cio-San, won unusually vigorous applause from her first American audience.

The new soprano who, it was said, is a native of Bari, in southeastern Italy, came here with relatively little advance reclamé, although official advance information revealed that she began her career by winning the first prize over more than 300 rivals in a national vocal competition, and has sung in major opera theaters in !Italy, France, England and elsewhere. The title role of "Madama Butterfly" was the vehicle of her debut in Parma, and her interpretation of it impressed as that of an artist who was devoted to the character and had studied it thoroughly from a musical and dramatic point of view.


In its first demonstration here her voice proved to be of unusually appealing quality, and maintained its best standards with laudable consistency. The prevailing steadiness of tone, noticeable during the solo which accompanies Butterfly's first entrance, at a time when debut nerves are most likely to militate against vocal firmness, suggested a well-schooled tone production, and her singing gave a communicative impression of emotional color. The volume of tone did not seem particularly large; there were moments when the quality was slightly veiled in the lower register in passages which, while artistically sung and calling for intimacy of expression, did not always carry through the orchestration. But Mme. Albanese can be expected to cope with this difficulty with the aid of increasing acquaintance with this theater. Her high notes carried well and, apart from a slight hardness of timbre at the outset, merited praise for their clarity and focus; dynamic shading was well employed to achieve a desired expressive result.

Her interpretation, pictorially convincing, was developed along individual lines with exceptional wealth of detail in pose, gesture, expression and points of stage business which generally contributed to a vivid realization of the character, even if some of this detail seemed likely to be most effective in a theater smaller than the Metropolitan. "Un bel di vedremo" was set forth as part of a continuous action rather than as a featured aria, and thus gained dramatically, if not without a certain sacrifice of the musical line. The impersonation, however, did not sacrifice expressive values as a whole to fine points, and the wide range of emotions inherent in the role, and the tragedy of Butterfly's fate, were persuasively and communicatively realized.

Charles Kullman was in good voice in a meritorious interpretation of a Pinkerton of a notably naval appearance; Mr. Bonelli sang creditably as a sympathetic and solicitous American consul. Mr. De Paolis was at home as the solicitous Goro, and Mr. Cordon was imposingly minatory as the Bonze. The orchestra under Mr. Papi had its moments of two untrammeled sonority, sometimes obscuring the softer notes of Pinkerton as well as of Butterfly, As for the opera itself, if some of us would grant a slight preference to "Tosca" or "La Boheme" among Puccini's best known scores, it still wears remarkably well; the appeal of its music and the pathos of its subject have not lessened during its first absence from the Metropolitan's active list since it first entered the repertoire back in 1907.

Mme. Albanese, who had apparently lost no time in winning the warmly expressed liking of her hearers, shared many curtain calls after each act with her colleagues. The new representative of Butterfly's infant son, "Trouble," the five year old Barbara de Silvia, seemed entirely at home upon the stage and took a solo curtain call with notable composure.

Review 2:

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

A new Butterfly, in the person of Licia Albanese, who then made her Metropolitan debut, was seen last night in the title part of Puccini's opera. She quickly won the audience's approval by the freshness of feeling, the interest of detail in her performance and the prevailing, eloquence of her song.

It need not be claimed that the voice is a. great one, but it has beauty and sensuous color, and is employed with interpretive resource. It is true that the love scene fell short, where the soprano was concerned, because it, needed a broader line, more opulence of tone and intensity of feeling. On this occasion the passage was- decorative rather than convincing. It might have had greater effect with a singer of less sensibility and more sheer drive and lungpower, since, after all, the scene is not particularly subtle and looks for much of its result to the sheer "juice" of the melodies and the splendor of Puccini's orchestration with its unisons and richness of tone color.

The question was then whether Mme. Albanese could sound the greater emotional depths of the scenes to come. As it developed, she did this, and without resort, to the slightest exaggeration or mere theatricalism to make her point. She sounded the note of tragedy and made it the more poignant by the constant light and shade of her dramatic interpretation. There was a real simplicity and contagious emotion in it, and everything was so thoughtfully proportioned that climaxes had never to be forced or passion torn to tatters to make it carry across the footlights. Several times the audience interrupted Mme. Albanese with applause. Her performance. it should be added, was augmented in effect by an unusually good stage ensemble,

Charles Kullman's Pinkerton has long stood to his credit, and last night he sang with a special ardor. Richard Bonelli, for a great rarity, makes the character of Sharpless live as few baritones have done before our public, The gait, the costume, the gaucherie of an honest American, and his intensely honest indignation with Pinkerton and pity for Cio-Cio-San constituted a real element of the drama. Alessio de Paolis's Goro has a certain malice and craft that would also appear to typify the character, and he is skillful in the detail of the part. And there was Lucielle Browning's well-conceived Suzuki. And not only these things: Gennaro Papi conducted, eloquently, earnestly, the best reading we have heard him give of any score.

Photograph Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio-San.

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