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Tuesday 21 January 2020

A cad, a Yank and a butterfly --Puccini's bizarre love triangle

Thinking of opera, there's the temptation to assume that it's all entertainment from a long time ago. Not so. Though it has its roots in the 1600s when names like Monteverdi, Purcell and Scarlatti were to the fore, it's less than 90 years since the most recent work of the last major contributor to the central operatic repertoire was first staged.

Far from the era of frock coats, wigs and sedan chairs, when Giacomo Puccini's Turandot was premiered at La Scala, Milan, there would have been Fiats and Fords in the streets outside.

Puccini's are among the most popular operas, and his Madama Butterfly is an enduring favourite. Not that it follows the traditional formula. In fact, it turns convention on its head.

The tenor lead is a far cry from the romantic hero who battles hell and high water and all for the love of a good woman, with or without tragic consequences.

The main man in Butterfly is a cad and a bounder. The heroine is left in the lurch, and dies by her own hand in the end.

Dating from 1904, it's a contemporary yarn, said to be based on a true-life story. Set in Japan, it centres on an arranged marriage between an American naval officer -- Lieutenant Pinkerton -- and a 15-year-old geisha, Cio-Cio-San, the Madama Butterfly of the title.

Pinkerton stays around just about long enough to consummate the marriage, before he's off on his ship again, and three years pass with Cio-Cio-San declaring loyalty and love and waiting with their son for the return of his father.

Meanwhile, the man she married has taken an American wife.

The pair of them turn up, and the full horror becomes obvious. Cio-Cio-San gives up the child -- Pinkerton and his new wife can have him -- and takes her own life.

Heady drama, seasoned with some of opera's loveliest arias. There's the wonderful Vieni la Sera (Night is Falling), the long love duet at the end of Act One.

Un Bel Dì (One Beautiful Day) sings Butterfly in anticipation of the fine day when Pinkerton will come back to her.

Coro a Bocca Chiusa (The Humming Chorus) sees Butterfly and her child through their wait as they watch the harbour for the return of Pinkerton's ship.

And there's Pinkerton's farewell song to the little house where they were, however briefly, happy together -- Addio, Fiorito Asil -- when guilt gets the better of him.

Next week, Leeds-based Opera North, on their first visit to Dublin, will be presenting Madama Butterfly on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the recently renamed Grand Canal Theatre.

Full details at www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ Lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning.

ghamilton@independent.ie

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