Puccini - Madama Butterfly
Puccini - Madama Butterfly

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Product Description

Of all Puccini's major operas, the intimate tragedy of Madama Butterfly is least in need of elaborate staging and might therefore benefit most from the close scrutiny of film. The story is domestic, the setting Spartan, the incidental characters kept to a minimum. This 1974 version, however, demonstrates that Butterfly still needs a healthy injection of proscenium arch melodrama. Director Jean-Pierre Ponelle's production strives for realism but remains unfortunately studio-bound, having neither the benefit of location filming nor the heightened reality of an opera stage. The exterior is a perpetually fog-shrouded heath of indeterminate locale; the interior is cramped and unadorned. The setting is just too prosaic to contain the epic emotions of grand opera.

Thankfully, the cast is a superb one, headed by Pl¨¢cido Domingo's rakish Pinkerton and Mirella Freni's rubicund Butterfly. Their singing is incomparable, as is Herbert von Karajan's musical direction of the Vienna Philharmonic. The singers mime to prerecorded music, which is occasionally disconcerting since when film demands close-ups, opera provides broad gestures. Musically, this Butterfly is impeccable. Visually it adds nothing that could not be seen to better effect in a stage version. --Mark Walker

Customer Reviews:

  • A response to the other reviews
    This isn't a full review but a response to the other reviews here - I read all of them. The singing is excellent and listening to it with the video turned off is not a bad idea as some have suggested. The visuals are not uniformly bad. There are bad moments - I agree with those others have noted. Few have noted the good moments - there are some! One example is the morning scene after Butterfly has waited all night for Pinkerton to return. It is a lovely movie moment. There are lots of moments that are perfectly fine - like the flower scene in the garden - not great movie-making, but perfectly fine. Most of the scenes in the movie fall into the "more or less good" category. Of course it is the embarrassingly bad (or just puzzling) ones that stick in the mind of most reviewers here. If you watch this movie, bring a big helping of forgiveness for the visuals and you'll enjoy it. If something offends you, close your eyes and enjoy the singing!...more info
  • riduculous direction and pessimistic production
    Despite the reputation of the director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, I didn't like this production at all. I found it was even an insult to the masterpiece of Puccini. It's completely wrongfully directed from the beginning to the end. Freni's Cio-Cio san sounds excellent, but, Ponnelle made her to be a weak girl (she should be a strong girl and must have much of self-confidence and discipline). Her father killed himself in order to die with honor rather than living with dishonor and she is very proud of him. That's her philosophy, too. Freni's acting when she says her father is "morto" doesn't represent Cio-cio san's personality.
    It's like Madama Butterfly in the production of Mikado. Cio-Cio san presents her mother, who is not only very poor (as it's written to be) but impossibly comic and ugly at the same time. So is the Consul. He looks like a comedian popped out from a cartoon. Goro isn't Japanese but a clown.
    The finest "Flower duet" is turned into their love scene. I mean, apparently they are having sex on the field. Pinkerton is on the top of Cio-cio san moving up and down and say "Come! Come!". This is ridiculous. When Suzuki is pessimistic about Pinkerton's return, Cio-cio san is supposed to convince her that none of the rumors is true and he would be back soon. Here, Cio-cio san is already so despaired and obviously she's lost all her hope. How could she convince her maid to keep faith and wait! Humming chorus is merged into Cio-cio san's dream. This scene is so confusingly done. As for me, I don't need to see what she dreams because it's so obvious.
    The decor is only one house and the field of grass in the deep fog.
    Good thing about this production, though, is Domingo. He is handsome and extraordinary. But his T-shirt looks pretty much from this century.
    What was Ponnelle thinking? Wasn't Karajan around when he directed? It's all wrong!...more info
  • Opera paradise
    Perhaps the most authoritative voice (in English at least) The Penguin Guide to Recordings of Classical Music judges Herbert von Karajan "second to none" as an interpreter of Puccini. However with an opera like Madama Butterfly that focuses on one character the lead singer must assume prime importance. Mirella Freni has recorded this opera three times and it is no coincidence that The Penguin Guide crowns her recordings as the three best. "Sweeter of voice than any on record" (their words), Freni effloresces as Butterfly, bringing into bloom her rich bouquet of tonal colors to flush the role to life with compelling urgency while "consistently growing in stature from the young girl to the tragic heroine." In uncharacteristic harmony, The Gramophone agrees that Freni is indeed the finest Butterfly while Fred Plotkin, former director of New York's Metropolitan Opera, in his book, "Opera 101", takes a step further and adorns her "almost unrivaled" in the sphere of Romantic Italian opera.
    Following its disastrous opening Puccini withdrew Madama Butterfly from performance and, along with the librettists, set to work on it for three months. The decision to mitigate the villainy of Pinkerton and invest him with some redeeming qualities proved pivotal for without such improvement the dynamic degenerates into melodrama and Butterfly lapses into a silly young woman who closes her eyes to reality and gets crushed by it. Pinkerton--though careless (hence the chewing gum, t-shirt, tossing the Ottoke, the mutinous collar, etc.), irresponsible, and callously ethnocentric--is never consciously evil and the distinction becomes crucial to establishing Butterfly as a tragic heroine. Neither blind nor stupid, she retains a vision of humanity (based on the kind of person she is) that is nobler and finer than what we actually are and this is her hamartia (tragic flaw). Ponelle illuminates this for us by positioning his camera at ground level looking up so she emerges as a towering, heroic figure braced against the sky as she clenches her fists, throws her head back, and sings with passionate puissance, "Tutto questo avverr¨¤, te lo prometto. Tienti la tua paura, io con sicura fede l'aspetto." (All this will happen I promise you. Keep your fears to yourself, I shall await him with unshakeable faith.)
    The most enchanting voice ever to record the role of Butterfly, the most august baton of the second half of the twentieth century supported by two of its most beloved legends (Domingo and Ludwig), all captured working in concert to grace us with Puccini's opus magnum--for the true aficionado this is opera paradise. My fellow reviewers besmirch the page with whining over lip-synching, video quality, camera angles, the distension of Domingo's epigastrium, and (of all the inane twaddle) the alignment of Freni's incisors. Excuse me, but what does any of this have to do with music? Silence, ye film critics! This is the ethereal art of opera, not mere cinema.
    One caveat: claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the Brazilian release offers no English subtitles.
    ...more info
  • Emotional
    I am very familiar with the music of this opera but had never seen it performed until receiving this DVD. Instead of being performed on a stage, it is done as a movie which makes it even more realistic. It is truly beautiful. It was 'filmed' in 1974 and Freni & Domingo are young & their voices AND acting are wonderful....more info
  • Butterfly dies...but NOT soon enough...
    I have a large collection of opera dvds. Many people only prefer to purchase staged versions, but I don't mind movie versions as well. They give you an entirely new prospective to the story...if its done well. This production of Butterfly is one of the worst productions of ANYTHING that I have ever seen. Once you see the opening scene, when Domingo begins running through a random field, you should brace yourself, because it only goes downhill from there. The singing is quite good, but the cinematography and the staging is absolutely attrocious. The camera angles are just bad and the sequence from Act 2 to Act 3 (which is all done as one act in this production) looks very, very, STUPID. The best part of this production is Butterfly's death, which leaves Pinkerton in a state of...well, you just have to see it. That is the only promising piece of staging in the whole production. If you want to save some money, I would not suggest buying this production unless you want to get a couple of opera friends together, and have a nice laugh......more info
  • An awful production
    The singing is very good and the Dolby 5.0 sound track is excellent. However, the performance, stage design and lighting are not as good as in another movie from Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Verdi's "Rigoletto". I'd rather turn the TV off or watch the weather network while playing the sound tracks on this DVD, just because of the artificial acting, fake smiling and the make-up of Freni. I am expecting another Madama Butterfly on DVD from Columbia TriStar with Ying Huang singing Cio-cio-san, although her voice was not as amazing as Freni's....more info
  • Beautiful singing but questionable acting
    The advent of opera on DVD has been a real boon to neophytes and aficionados of opera alike, as it presents the medium in a way that can only be superseded by a trip to the opera house itself. This Madama Butterfly is a film version of Puccini's beloved opera, and as such it takes certain liberties (obvious lip-synching, and singing when the actors are clearly not singing--the music represents thoughts "in their heads"). While all of this can be somewhat of a distraction, it is the poor acting, especially of Domingo, that hinders my being able to suspend reality while watching this production--in spite of some outstanding singing from Freni, Ludwig AND Domingo. Evidence of poor acting begin early on when the viewer actually witnesses Domingo's Pinkerton CHEWING GUM (!) over a stretch of several minutes--very strange indeed, and HIGHLY annoying. Was this a conscious decision or was it a gross oversight? My guess is the latter, for I find nothing artistic or symbolic in it; but it is such inexcusable distractions that ruin portions of this opera for me. It is as if Domingo is trying too hard to make us loath his character. This is most unfortunate, as Domingo sings AND acts brilliantly in Rosi's film version of Carmen, which he did about a decade after Butterfly. While Freni certainly does not look 15, few Butterflys do, and who cares when they sing so ravishingly as she? Freni gives a beautifully convincing performance, and her scenes are the most thrilling by far. The sets and backgrounds are acceptable although for a flim version, they fail to evoke an intense "Japanese" flavor the way those in Rosi's film version of Carmen do for Andaluc¨ªa. In conclusion, opera on DVD places more demands on a production: to be truly outstanding, the VISUAL (acting/sets/backgrounds) component must be equal to the singing. This opera film fails in the first department, but is saved by the singing--which one can get on a CD!...more info
  • Mostly disappointed...
    I've always thought Madama Butterfly was one of the most moving and enjoyable operas I've ever seen. So, after stumbling upon the DVD here at Amazon, I thought these DVDs might make wonderful Christmas presents for others and myself -- especially after noticing that Mirella Freni was singing the role of Butterfly (and I can't complain about the rest of the cast either).

    However, after watching this DVD, I'm not really sure how to characterize my disappointment. The soundtrack is certainly wonderful -- if only I could listen to just the singing and music alone and imagine everything else. Since this is a movie and not a taped performance, the actors are actually lip-synching (and doing an absolutely terrible job of it). Furthermore, the acting, lighting, scenery, and makeup is pretty bad as well. And, unfortunately, as much as I enjoy Mirella Freni's singing, she just can't come close to pulling off a sweet and innocent 15 year old -- obviously not, but the lack of this believability (especially in all the close up shots) kind of ruins it for me. Perhaps I should be more realistic in what to expect from a movie version and what the actors can and cannot do etc., but all of these flaws still detract greatly from the overall experience.

    Lastly, and maybe I'm mistaken, but everytime I see this opera live, the ending has always made Butterfly seem much more honorable, stoic, and as a result all the more pitiable and sad. My impression is that this version kind of takes a different path.

    Overall, I would recommend getting the wonderful Pavoratti and Freni CD available here at Amazon and supplementing that with tickets to see a live performance. Again, maybe it's just me, but so far I have yet to find an opera DVD that has been half as enjoyable as seeing it in person....more info

  • great singing; lousy presentation
    If I'm not mistaken, this should be the same production as the video with the same actors and director, even though they aren't linked in this site? It was the Freni/ Domingo VIDEO I saw.

    While this production does have possibly some of the best singing of any, I had to wonder whether the director purposely intended to make some sort of comic parody or caricature of Puccini's opera. If this was his intention, then he perhaps succeeded. A number of unfortunate choices in staging, costuming, and characterization made it all but impossible (for me, anyway) to take the characters or their tragic situation seriously. Goro looked like some great buffoonish clown, and Cio-Cio-San's mother like a vacant-minded old hag; not one of the characters seemed remotely Japanese to me. Then, there are the American and Japanese puppets Freni toys with, the child who is shown well before the dramatic revelation to Sharpless, and faithful Susuki actually ASSISTING Butterfly with the suicide! The overall effect seemed closer to farce, or mockery, than high drama and serious tragedy appropriate to the story.

    Worst of all, for me, the consul Sharpless, presumably the moral backbone or conscience of the piece, manages to come off nearly as spinelessly degenerate as Pinkerton himself. When Goro offers to show him his selection of mail-order brides, so far from "laughingly declining"- as the script indicates- he puts on his spectacles; he asks Butterfly about whether she "has any sisters", with a grin and a twinkle that would have had me wanting to lock my own baby sister away somewhere safe (one rather wonders why he bothers to warn Pinkerton against toying with his marriage and his bride, at all); he puffs distractedly away at a cigarette while trying to read Pinkerton's letter. One of the more affecting incidental details of the 1996 film version by Mitterand (Troxell and Huang) is toward the end when Sharpless takes away a bottle from Pinkerton with which he, Pinkerton, has been dosing himself when he realizes what he's done; here, however, it is the consul who is seen fortifying himself in the crisis with the contents of a similar bottle.

    All in all, I could not find anything in this film to recommend it- beyond, again, some excellent singing, which its negative points for me far outweighed. I found it an embarrassing travesty of Puccini's masterpiece....more info

  • what have Freni's teeth got to do with it!?
    Oh puhleeeeeez - Freni's teeth not suitable? Not good enough for what? Is this Miss Japan beauty pageant or what??! I guess most of the reviewers were expecting another level of Oriental exoticism and, when they didn't get any, were subsequently disilliusioned. If that's your first and foremost wish, get the Frederic Mitterand 1995 film with the Chinese soprano (now THAT should get rave reviews, shouldn't it, because she's got the Oriental eyes; and the Tunisian location will easily fool you into thinking that this indeed is Nagasaki). For everyone else, I wholeheartedly recommend the Karajan/Domingo/Freni version. It's got depth. It hasn't got dental perfection. Thankfully....more info
  • Musically lovely, however, annoying production
    This DVDis hampered by a distractingly poor, kitchy production. Although, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle was a well liked director, especially during the 1970s when this was filmed, he almost ruins this DVD with outdated and misguided directing and editing. The sets are generally tolerable but the costumes and make-up are unattractive and borderline silly. Worst is the general directing and editing, which culminate at the end of the last act when a t-shirted Domingo jumps through a shoji screen to be freeze-framed in mid-air: a final example of Ponnelle's misguided attempts at drama.

    Musically, the cast is superb. Domingo is in strong voice and an ideal Pinkerton, despite being a bit clumsy an actor under Ponnelle's direction. Freni fares much better as an actress, and is overall a lovely Butterfly, despite a few harsh notes. Karajan leads the orchestra wonderfully, rounding out an overall strong and compelling interpretation of Puccini's score.

    Ultimately, the poor production leads one to enjoy listening to the DVD more than watching it. As such, until a better DVD of Butterfly is released, it may pay to just stick with audio recordings and forego the visuals which distract from the beauty of these fine musical artists' interpretations of one of opera's greatest scores.
    ...more info
  • madama butterfly not my favourite
    We were disappointed with this first viewing of Madama Butterfly. We found it melodramatic rather than tragic which may be attributed to the production. The flashbacks, dream sequences and "inner thought vocals" were annoying, the lighting was poor and too contrived in many of the scenes, the staging was good but not great and fading between scenes was disastrous. The vocals were very good... but I love Freni....more info
  • The Many Faces of Madame Butterfly
    From the David Belasco play to Puccini's opera to Schonberg's Miss Saigon, there are many faces of Madame Butterfly. But none is any more exquisite than that of Mirella Freni-- especially as she sings the near-perfect aria, "Un bel di" and the Flower Song duet with Suzuki. However, Ponnelle, who staged and directed the film version, made Placido Domingo as Lt. Pinkerton a little too caddish for my taste. This version seems to resemble a faded memory that speaks not to the intellect but to the heart. It certainly deserves a place in any opera collection....more info
  • I Can See Why Some People Don't Like It, But...
    This just might be my favorite of the four film versions of "Madama Butterfly" available on video. True, it's less "pretty" than the Verona, La Scala, and Frederic Mitterand versions, but it's more dramatically interesting and intense. If prettiness is what you think "Madama Butterfly" is mainly about, get the video from Verona (the prettiest "Butterfly" I know), and leave this one alone. But if you want good dramatic impact, then this one is the one I most highly reccomend....more info
  • Freni was and always will be THE Butterfly....
    Mirella Freni has got to be the best soprano ever to have sung Butterfly (it was after hearing her performance in this film that I became an immense fan of hers). Her voice contained unspeakable beauty, and she was incredibly intelligent in coloring and acting with her voice. The lyrical tones she naturally possessed served the role well, plus her acting (both vocally and physically) was just dynamite! It is the combination of the sense of girlishness in her voice (even in the most dramatic moments, which she sang with much fervor...I cry each time hearing those parts) and her acting that makes her the ideal Butterfly. Of the many Butterfly recordings, if you listen to them very closely and analytically, you'll find that only a handful of them are sung with passion and understanding of Butterfly's angst (only one other soprano had been able to move me, although not to the degree Freni has: Scotto). It's too bad that Freni's voice began to become heavier shortly after this film was made (around 1974). Maybe this role was a bit much for her....Domingo was an excellent Pinkerton and his acting was simply the best. One can almost transfer the anger and hatred toward Pinkerton onto Domingo himself (or at least for me it did). Christa Ludwig likewise deserves much applause for her interpretation.

    This is one Butterfly that I would recommend to anyone, even to those who aren't familiar with or like the opera. The dramatic moments are so moving! Pardon me, I'm getting choked up just thinking about it....if you're considering which Butterfly to get, regardless of film version, audio recording, or live taped performance, stop pondering and pick up a copy of this amazing film (it's available on DVD too, by the way). Or if you're specifically looking for an audio recording, get Freni's 1974 Decca recording (with Pavarotti and the exact same casting for the other roles)....more info

  • People Expect More of a Stronger Team, But...
    We have a strong cast here (almost the strongest possible) : Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic; and then there is Domingo, Freni & Ludwig etc. There is criticism on the other opera for having a Japanese Madama Butterfly. Yes, there is point there particularly when the latter is at that age and of that huge size. But on the other hand, Freni is the very opposite of any Japanese or indeed any oriental sense of a beauty, particulaly so on that make-up, and than there are so many close-up of her face which dispelled any mysterious sense of beauty of the East ...

    The setting is comparatively dull: a huge Japanese house by the side of a desolate slope. The house is too large by general Japanese standard and the slope can't possibly remind us of their religious love for beautiful gardens, nor their Shintoism...

    For the singing, well, Domingo will not disappoint you. Neither will there be much surprise for you. I have some reservation for the part of Freni, the phrasings are often on the verge of breaking. What really is disappointing is the support from the orchestra. Karajan is supposed to have enormous experience in opera works, even before he dictated the Berlin Philharmonic. Well, it's rather mechanical and without much life: as a dancing partner, he is hopeless. If Furtwangler is to get an A+, the most he can get is a C+ when Karl Bohm & Solti will at least get a B+/A-. Karajan is much better on his own, and certainly at his best doing Mahler, where we don't sense any living organism nor direction, but just volume and colours. Its sad to say that here Mahler's criticism of Puccini, dispensing him as just a composer who knows some orchestration ( and no more ) seem well justified...

    As a whole, I rate this DVD somewhere between 3 to 4 stars. But in view of the strong cast and the legitmate expectations thereof, I only give it a 3 stars, and I can't really recommend it with all my heart....more info

  • Amazing Singers - Bad Movie
    If you're looking for a screen adaptation of Madama Butterfly, your best bet would be to choose Madame Butterfly made in 1995 starring Richard Troxell. This dvd version is barely above a filmed stage version, and perhaps a filmed stage version would have been better than the absolutely atrocious staging. If you are looking for a fantastic version of Madama Butterfly to listen to, then get the recording with Freni and Domingo. The acting in this dvd is definitely a reason to get it, if only for Mirella Freni and Christa Ludwig, who make this movie in the part of acting. Domingo has a great voice but the acting is so-so. If you can get past the complete lack of budget for this movie (Butterfly's 'kimono' doesn't even have the sleeves finished, if you notice, they're fraying because they were just cut) and past the fact that Pinkerton is in a t-shirt, then this is a decent dvd. Get this for the vocals alone, but get the newer version of a visual and aural experience that will be the only version of Madame Butterfly you'll ever need....more info
  • not bad
    Here we have a great recording with the essencial Butterly herself. The music and singing is superb. Unfortunately as the singers are lipsinking rather badly with silly costumes, and rather bland acting.. you have to wonder if you shouldnt just buy the CD. there are a few nice moments.. un bel di.. che tua madre... and of course the finale.. but overall.. I'd much rather have freni on DVD in operas where she's actually singing and acting.. like Adrianna.. which is fantastic....more info
  • Recycled Decca DVD... Brilliant singing... Poor staging
    This supposedly new release from Deutsche Grammophon is actually the same 1974 production previously released under the Decca label in 2001. That older title is still available at Amazon. This is a film version, not a stage production. It was directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and starred some of the finest performers available at the time. The great Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera. It is without question a magnificient performance. Mirella Freni sings the role of Butterfly as few others can match. Placido Domingo is in equally fine form. Christa Ludwig is excellent as Suzuki. And yet the film as a whole doesn't really work. The trouble is that while Ponnelle tries to make this into a movie version of Butterfly, he neither has the resources nor the capability for doing so. The staging looks decidedly cheap, lacklustre and as some have commented, tacky. An effective movie version would benefit from realistic settings, a real house on a hill, with a sparkling Bay beneath. It could have done without some of the sensationalist/ridiculous set directions, like having Domingo jump out through the paper walls of the house, ostensibly for dramatic effect. This production could have worked (indeed would have been a triumphant success) if filmed purely as a stage based opera. However Ponnelle's final choice puts it neither here nor there. We have sets that look like they belong on stage (and not a very good stage at that), yet the performers are made to act as if they were in a movie. We get to see Placido Domingo chewing gum while he contemplates marrying Cio Cio San, presumably to show what a cad he is. And he continues to chew gum even while he's supposed to be singing. While this is still set in 19th century Japan, Domingo is seen to wear an obviously 20th century T-shirt. Domingo can act far better than what is shown here. As for the singing, the performances are all dubbed post-production. Lip synching ranges from poor to laughable. Because this is supposed to be a movie, and not a staged opera, we get the truly unbelieveable sight of these great performers singing without having to open their mouths - as we are supposed to be hearing their thoughts. Again, this could work provided the director is able to convince the audience that they are in a realistic film world. Unfortunately we are never transported into that world, we are all too aware that this is an opera sung on stage, albeit lip-synched.

    The original Decca DVD sported a very soft, grainy transfer in fullscreen (pan & scan), littered with dirt specks and film nicks, looking very much like a poor quality VHS tape and this DG reissue looks no different. I can do without the DTS remix. This was recorded in stereo and the original release, in addition to a Dolby 5.0 surround, already had an excellent uncompressed Linear PCM audio track with quality equivalent to that of a good CD.

    The original Decca release received mixed reviews. Aurally it is superb, one of the finest Butterflies ever. Visually it is close to a disaster. If you believe opera is only meant to be listened to, then this will be a top choice. If you believe opera should be an experience for both the eyes and ears, then pass this by. Even today, I still play the old Decca DVD, but only to listen to. I leave the TV off.

    Note: It's not strictly correct to say that the singers were dubbed post-production. This movie has a curious history. It began as an audio-only studio recording with the exact same cast except that Luciano Pavarotti sang the role of Pinkerton. That recording was made in early 1974 at the Sofiensaal in Vienna. It received critical acclaim. The decision to make a movie using that original recording as a soundtrack came later that year. For the movie, they re-recorded Placido Domingo in the role as Pinkerton and spliced it into the earlier recording of the original cast. So the performers are in fact miming or lip-synching to the pre-recorded music while the film was being shot....more info
  • Please pass me the tissues!
    Puccini's Madama Butterfly conducted by Von Karajan and the sublime voices of Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni are a combination that, in my mind, is unbeatable. It should be kept in mind that when this film was made Freni and Domingo were not yet 40 - a time in their lives and careers when their voices were at their peaks. Being able to see and hear them as they were then makes this film historic.

    When it comes to acting, I'll grant you that Placido Domingo and Mirella Freni are not in the same league with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, but they nonetheless committed themselves admirably in this project. I was especially smitten with Mirella Freni's portrayal of Cio Cio San. I see Cio Cio San as a very young (15?) girl who is painfully shy and oh so sensitive and na?ve. A girl who fell in love with love with Pinkerton (the bum!) at the center of this tragedy - a girl who later became a textbook case of denial in the 2nd act that was finally driven to end her own life. That's what Freni conveyed to me and no matter how many times I watch this production, I am driven literally to tears.

    The film and directing had a few rough spots - camera angles in particular - I'm sure Ponnelle would have some second thoughts. However, those details notwithstanding, the soft monotones he used throughout created an aura that was perfect background for the drama that unfolded within it.

    I feel obliged to say something here about lip synching - one of the curses of this sort of filmmaking. I've watched this film countless times (I'm addicted!) and the characters mouths work along with lyrics most convincingly. Were they to be singing it live there would be some not very attractive facial contortions involved in vowel production and high notes requiring some visible "reaching" on the part of the singer that would certainly not be in keeping with Freni's fragile beauty or Domingo's handsome countenance. So, with this in mind, I say bravo to lip-synching here.

    The rest of the supporting cast did their respective jobs most admirably - Senechal as oily "wasp - toad" Goro, Kerns as the counsel, Sharpless, in the middle, and Ludwig as loyal Suziki were perfect.

    If you're looking for historic and heart wrenching opera video, you've found it here....more info

  • Come on, people...it isn't that bad
    I can't understand all this carping about how rotten Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's film is. Okay, this isn't Orson Welles. The film is certainly flawed, with a few cheesy moments, most of which have been mentioned in other reviews(the opening, with Domingo in a T-shirt comically running through a paper wall, the bizarre dream sequence, Goro as a bucktoothed stereotype). These flaws are what prevent me from giving the film a five star rating. But there are also some very beautiful moments, and besides, from an aural standpoint, you aren't going to find a better performance of Madama Butterfly ANYWHERE. Get a grip, folks. To hear Freni and Domingo at their prime singing what is arguably Puccini's greatest score(it is certainly his most beautiful) conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and for under twenty dollars, I would be willing to put up with the singers running around in clown makeup for two-and-a-half hours. The music making on this disc is simply too good not to be recommended just because the filmmaker's ambitions occasionally tax his reach.

    For me, a good opera film captures the mood of the music. Butterfly is probably Puccini's most atmospheric, lush, and dreamy score(although La Fanciulla del West is stiff competition), and Ponnelle's film is appropriately dreamlike. Let's use the marvelous love duet that ends the first act as an example. For me, this duet, along with Liu's death scene from Turandot, represents Puccini at the very height of his musical-dramatic brilliance. The music is rapturous and erotic, delaying the crescendo until the moment becomes almost unbearable. Ponnelle paints this music in dreamlike images of ever-increasing passion. Granted, this film was made in 1974, so some of the more trippy moments might seem a little dated, but if you take that into account, the moment is beautifully filmed, haunting and evocative, just like the score. The image perfectly matches the music...isn't that what opera on film is all about? If this were the only example of this perfect union of sound and vision, then I would be less enthusiastic about the film as a whole, but throughout most of Madama Butterfly, Ponnelle manages that lush, languorous tide of images that matches Puccini's flowing music.

    Regarding the sound portion, as I said before, you won't hear Butterfly performed better, that is a guarantee. Mirella Freni IS Cio-Cio-San, the innocence, the passion, the self-delusion, the heartbreak. Oh, and she sings the role to perfection, capturing the character's timidity and strength. Butterfly's entrance is probably my favorite musical entrance in all opera, and hearing Freni's singing, quiet at first and from a distance, gradually building as she and her bridal party make their arrival, is a breathtaking moment, outclassing any staged production I have ever seen. A very young Placido Domingo is in prime voice, and is ideally cast as the rake B.F. Pinkerton, initially cavalier to the point of being cruel, later violently regretful(too little, too late). He does look somewhat risible running in slow motion with his arms flailing about in his handlebar mustache, but overall he is a fine romantic lead. Robert Kerns has a strong and compassionate baritone voice, which matches his character's best qualities, the voice of reason, Pinkerton's disregarded conscience. Having Christa Ludwig in the role of Suzuki might be considered luxury casting, since her character is less prominent, but she makes the most of her time onstage as the matronly confidante to Butterfly, she is definitely at her prime vocally at this point in her career. Von Karajan's conducting is also in its prime, not as slow as it sometimes is, or else I didn't notice it because the slowness matches the languid tempo of much of the music. The sound quality is clear and full-bodied enough that hardly any of the notes are obscured.

    Forget the negative reviews. If you love Butterfly, give this a chance. There are flaws, but considering the strengths of the performances and of much of the film, those flaws are easily overlooked....more info
  • comparaison non comparaison..
    Reading some of the other reviews here, I wonder if I'm in the same universe. I feared this dvd for a long time, having been bleached of hope by years of indifferent if not hostile reviews and commentary about it. I think Puccini planned that NO performance of Butterfly would ever truly be sufficient, truly right. But surely, Ponnelle's valiant film effort comes close. For me, closer than any other available dvd version. Two reasons front and center - the singing of Mirella Freni and Karajan's handling of the score with the Vienna Philharmonic. Having just this past week watched the Butterflys of Cedolins and Barker, Freni's magnificent singing is proof that the mitred age of Italian opera is passed. Any musician knows there's no comparison between Freni's singing and that of Cedolins and Barker, both of whom offer respectable enough versions of the score. Freni sings grand opera from the inside out, and THAT grace is found missing in every other available dvd of this opera. If the exposition of the human voice, yes even in verismo art, is your reason for opera, this film will love you, and you it. Mirella Freni's musicianly command of Puccini's eternally fecund score is overwhelming from beginning to end. The singing is epic, intelligent and purged of self regard. No less fertile is Karajan's intense way with Puccini, fevered but ever cool, ever rigorous. The Vienna orchestra finesses textures like a cat, every nuance cared for with golden perfection - it's a beautiful thing! Christa Ludwig embraces the role of Suzuki with incomparable singing and a riveting attentiveness as Cio-Cio-San's confidant. Her singing of the incantations that open Act 2 is easily equal to Cossotto's turn with Price. Forget the complaints about lonely heaths and cramped houses. Ponnelle creates a bewitching exterior with coastal grasses; the interior sets are never onerous or pretentious, reaching in fact a tremendous peacefulness by film's end. Ponnelle's genius with colors and texture, and certainly his motive behind the camera is remarkable, emotional, noble. What more can you ask for? The discolation from lip-synching is noticable but minimal, and even used to engaging advantage by Cio-Cio-San who occasionally assumes interior reflection by eschewing singing altogether, something impossible on a live stage. It's not perfect but damned near, a worthwhile filmed vision of an inexhaustible opera....more info
  • Shame,Shame,Shame!!!
    How can a respected company like DG can issue a DVD with such a poor film quality?...more info
  • Great singing, lousy presentation
    While this production does have possibly some of the best singing of any, I had to wonder whether the director purposely intended to make some sort of comic parody or caricature of Puccini's opera... A number of unfortunate choices in staging, costuming, and characterization made it all but impossible to take the characters or their tragic situation seriously... Goro looked like some great buffoonish clown, and Cio-Cio-San's mother like a vacant-minded old hag; not one of the characters seemed remotely Japanese to me...The overall effect seemed closer to farce, or mockery, than high drama and serious tragedy appropriate to the story.

    Worst of all, for me, the consul Sharpless, presumably the moral backbone or conscience of the piece, manages to come off nearly as spinelessly degenerate as Pinkerton himself. When Goro offers to show him his selection of mail-order brides, so far from "laughingly declining"- as the script indicates- he puts on his spectacles; he asks Butterfly about whether she "has any sisters", with a grin and a twinkle that would have had me wanting to lock my own baby sister away somewhere safe (one rather wonders why he bothers to warn Pinkerton against toying with his marriage and his bride, at all); he puffs distractedly away at a cigarette while trying to read Pinkerton's letter. One of the more affecting incidental details of the 1996 film version by Mitterand (Troxell and Huang) is toward the end when Sharpless takes away a bottle from Pinkerton with which he, Pinkerton, has been dosing himself when he realizes what he's done; here, however, it is the consul who is seen fortifying himself in the crisis with the contents of a similar bottle.

    All in all, I could not find anything in this film to recommend it- beyond, again, some excellent singing, which its negative points for me far outweighed. I found it an embarrassing travesty of Puccini's masterpiece....more info

  • Mesmerizing
    This version of Madama Butterfly is simply astonishing. Freni and Domingo are magnificent and Von Karajan, once again, proves to be the great maestro of all times. I watched this dvd with some friends and all of us were moved,some to tears, at the power of the performances....more info
  • Impeccable singing, not remastered for DVD
    To my very surprise this DVD is already for sale in the Netherlands where I bought it yesterday, 18th May 2005, whereas it is not yet released in the USA. That said, I already owned the earlier release and had hoped that they would have remastered the film for DVD. Alas, they did not, although they put the sound on DTS 5.0 which I am not yet able to listen to, which is the only difference compared to the DVD I already owned. (I think the sound might be great on DTS, but I do not know for now).

    I think the singing on this DVD is superb and impeccable (I am a big fan of Domingo's and Frenis pianissimos are the most beautiful you could ever hear). But the film looks as if somebody put it directly from VHS tape unto DVD (which is probably the case if I am to guess) which is a shame, seeing as the price I paid would have suggested that they would have done some work on it.

    Five stars for the singing and three for the quality of the DVD (and shame on all the big companies for daring to sell us this kind of quality), makes for the four stars given. ...more info
  • PAL or OTHER system
    I did look for a dvd like this but I did not found if it was PAL or other system, now I got the wrong system and I did send a mail to AMAZON without any reaction. It's not my way to make trouble and so I keep it but I know that the service is bad.

    Rob de Jong Holland...more info
  • Oldest is still the Best!
    Believe this to be the oldest video/film of this opera of any quality. Both Freni and Domingo were in their 30's and wonderful together. All the costumes and singing excellent. I liked the directing as well. The sets simple and lovely with a flashback beginning which was very different at the time it was made. I have many of videos, film and stage, made in subsequent years and none of them can begin to compare with this version. Freni will make you cry and Domingo is the overweight, if attractive heel that Pinkerton is supposed to be. I've seen it many times in person with many different singers and this video always comes to mind in comparison. Buy this Butterfly and enjoy the wonderful music full of Puccini's sentimentality! This is also a great gift for a newbie....more info
  • "He'll call `Butterfly' from the distance"
    It is the late 1800's. An American naval captain, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Pl¨¢cido Domingo) is stationed in Japan. As is tradition he has a girl in every port. That is except Japan. So he is matched up with a poverty stricken teen Cio-Cio-San, known as Butterfly (Mirella Freni.) Butterfly dumps her old religion (which infuriates her relatives) and clings to Pinkerton. Naturally the day will come when Pinkerton will need a proper American wife. So how does Cio-Cio react? (Puccini music at his best.) The story based on John Luther Long's novella about the relationship between an American navel officer and a former geisha.

    At first this looks like a 60's movie with voiceover. Placido looks a little like an Italian Hercules. But as time grows on you realize that they actually did a pretty good job of staging. There are plenty of implications that are not in the songs; so the story is better fleshed out than many of the stage versions. Naturally this film can not compete with live performances but it defiantly is worth it for the music and they are not dressed up in bug suits with antenni. This movie does gibe the impression that Puccini did not like Americans.
    ...more info
  • Avoid this like the Plague
    The DVD arrived. I assembled the young family. I sent them away in shame, as viewing this disk would strangle appreciation for opera forever. The critical issue is the date, 1974. To current eyes, this production is laughable, idiotic, the equivalent of elephants dancing ballet--even by our all-forgiving opera standards. It appears to be a stupendously dated "movie-ization" which has subsequently been pan and scanned into claustrophic closeups. The cast lip-synchs--they barely simulate singing! It's all appallingly unflattering to Freni, whose teeth were not designed for closeups. Good God, did von Karajan ever see this? This whole production is simply unbearable--even in l974, a disaster of bad ideas and a total misunderstanding of the film medium....more info
  • Karajan magnificent in unique treatment of familiar tragedy
    I completely disagree with some of the reviewers. How easy it is to misunderstand a fine director's intentions!
    The story of "Butterfly" is one of the most sordid tragedy in all opera repertoire. Think about it. An innocent 15 year old girl to escape poverty, thru a profit-hungry marriage broker, marries an opportunistic and unscrupulous American sea captain who seduces and abandons her.. She is cursed and abandoned by society, robbed of her child and driven to suicide.
    So what do the reviewers want? Pretty Japanese scenery with Fujijama in the background?
    The director created a unique film that's atmospheric, surrealistic, colorless to suit this story. The set: a nondescript cottage surrounded by a depressing barren field. Characters are well drawn, even the secondary ones. (eg. the grotesque but frightening Goro or the terrifying Bonzo).
    It is unfortunate that the 15 year old Cio-Cio San is played by a much older singer which is illusion destroying, but Mirella Freni is superb, it is HER role.
    Musically this set is absolutely without equal,(perhaps the magical Sinopoli comes near,but that's a CD) but I must emphasize the contribution of Karajan, who is the genius behind it all. I never thought he was a Puccini fan, but obviously he has a special feeling for this work. He takes a dramatic view of the score and almost re-discovers the opera. His ear for detail is uncanny, the love-duet is sensuous with soaring melodic lines, the great aria (Un bel di) rarely sounded more dramatic, full of emotion. It just builds and builds! And the 3rd act is so powerful, it will leave you breathless. You won't forget this film easily.
    ...more info
  • It stunk
    I gave it 2 stars, the 2 being in reality a big 5 for the singing. I bought this turkey before I read the reviews, then stupidly after I'd read them, I had a chance to return it for a refund but chose to watch it instead. The music was glorious (except for the grunt during the "memorable dream sequence" (according to the box) that Puccini hardly wrote). That said (I suggest as do others in their reviews that if you want this production, buy a CD, NOT this ghastly DVD), on to the rest of it. The thing made both Domingo and Puccini look ridiculous. Freni's "thoughts" were stupid (nobody else did it), the boy's hair was brown, not blond, Freni's teeth were perfectly fine, the little introduction (Domingo jumping through the wall and knocking people out of the way) was I suppose supposed to be modern or some crap like that. Domingo did chew gum and wear a T-shirt. Their lip-synching was good enough, subtitles were sparse so I got to look at their faces, but they didn't seem to be miming, though of course from the way it was filmed you knew they had to be (plus I'd been warned by those who know better). It was supposed to have been filmed in color, but I watched half yesterday and half tonight, and woke up this morning thinking it was all in grey. In fact that's all I can remember of it now. I'm going to throw it away. It's trash. I feel I've been had (this sucker cost me $26 + shipping), I've searched everywhere but cannot find a good film of Butterfly. Why? The music is heavenly and the story is heartbreaking. (I cried at the end of even this one.) I want a conventional, traditional Butterfly performed the way Puccini and his librettists wrote it. Is that too much to ask? They do it with other operas. One last word (except from now on I read reviews before I buy a DVD!!!). The concept of this production conformed perfectly to the story. Many unconventional touches brought home, brought out perfectly what the story was all about. But it didn't work. It was just lousy. Oh. And there sure was a lot of fog for spring. Maybe someone else would like it, it was Butterfly after all (except for the grunt during the "memorable dream sequence"), but I sure as hell didn't like it. Now to the garbage with this. Yeah. I'm so damned rich I can afford to blow $30 on Freni, Domingo, Ludwig and Karajan and come up with a piece of nonsense like this! Thanks a lot. Reminds me 30 years ago when I trusted another hero of mine and wound up having the bejesus scared out of me watching The Omen. ...more info
  • Not well-adapted to a film format
    This version of Madama Butterfly is not well-adapted to a film format, I do not recommend it.

    The director doesn't seem well-acquainted with the medium. His direction is awkward, with clumsy cuts, poor camera work, a plodding pace and flat lighting. The added scenes, such as the opening sequence with a distraught Domingo, as well as the dream sequence during the humming chorus, are unimaginative and don't add anything to the story.

    The costumes and makeup, too, are unattractive. Freni looks like a ghost in her stark white makeup, and Domingo's attire in the love scene is wholly inappropriate -- a cheap-looking, blue-colored T-shirt that doesn't flatter his pudgy, middle-aged physique. He looks like he ought to be sitting on a sofa guzzling beer and watching football.

    The only pluses are the acting and singing of the principals, which are quite good throughout....more info


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