Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pucciniana #8

The "Nessun Dorma" Variations

curated by John Conklin - BLO Artistic Advisr

Music from Puccini's TURANDOT

"Nessun dorma" as frat party

"Nessun Dorma" as the ROSENKAVALIER trio in drag

"Nessun Dorma" as the invasion of Poland

"Nessun Dorma " as...I really don't know quite what...listen and wonder...and weep?

(footnote: Perhaps almost forgotten today Deanna Durbin had one of the most remarkable and surprising careers and life journey possible. Check her out here!

"Nessun Dorma", "Vincero" indeed!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

BLO LIVE on WERS 88.9 today at 1:30 pm

What are you doing at 1:30pm today?? Well change your plans! Or at least add this into the mix!

Dinyar Vania (Lt. B.F. Pinkerton) and Yunah Lee (Cio-Cio-San) will sing arias from BLO's season opening production of Madama Butterfly, live on-air at WERS 88.9 FM.

If you dont have access to a radio you can listen to the live stream online at

Tune-in to hear some beloved Puccini arias in honor of National Opera Week (Oct. 26-Nov. 4)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pucciniana #7

Over the last couple of weeks we have brought you all manner of Pucciniana but focused mostly on popular hits. I thought today we'd take a minute to look at some of Puccini's lesser known operas and arias.  - Amanda Villegas, Marketing and Communications Manager at BLO

I think it is pretty safe to assume that La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca and possibly Turandot are the most well known Puccini operas. Have you heard of Il Tabarro? La fanciulla del West? Edgar? La Rondine? Manon Lescaut? All of them other operas by Puccini!

Many young singers are familiar with Il Trittico, the all encompassing title givent to a trio of Puccini operas made up of Gianni Schicchi, Il Tabarro, and Suor Angelica. Often Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica are performed in part or in whole in educational settings and small opera companies but rarely in major houses. I'm not sure why that is but so it is! Here is a youTube clip talking a bit about Gianni Schicchi.

The most beloved aria from Schicchi is of course "O mio babbino caro" ...

Operavore, an opera blogger for WQXR in NYC pulled together a great list of the Top 10 most underrated Puccini Arias. One of which is "Non piangere Liu" from Turandot sung here by the inimitable Franco Corelli (he is pretty easy on the eyes as well as the ears!)

Which lesser known Puccini operas and arias do you love? Which do you want to know more about? Answer in the comments below and you could win a Madama Butterfly T-Shirt!

BLO Music Director David Angus Conducts at Wexford Festival Opera

Listen live today at 1:30pm to David Angus conducting Wexford Festival Opera's production of Francesco Cilea's L'Arlesiana.

The live stream can be found here:

Also here is a quick look behind the scenes at Wexford!

Also: A sneak peek at David Angus conducting... ;)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pucciniana #6

Some alternative ways to view Madama Butterfly from BLO Artistic Advisor - John Conklin

Butterfly skates:

Butterfly dances:

Butterfly pitches:

Butterfly remixes:

Butterfly plays the Theremin:

Butterfly toots her own horn:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pucciniana #5

"Groans, roars, moos, laughs, bellows, sneers...." - a review of the premiere of MADAMA BUTTERFLY

"A virtual lynching" - Giacomo Puccini

"No one could have anticipated it. The house (La Scala, Milan) was sold out, the dress rehearsal had gone very well: Puccini was confident enough to invite twelve friends and some relatives which he rarely did for an opening night preformance. He sent a note to Rosina Storchio congratulating her on her interpretation and anticipating a triumph. But it was not to be. February 7,1904 became one of the most notorious of operatic fiascos. Any resemblances to LA BOHEME - particularly Butterfly's entrance music - was catcalled - "We've heard it before" someone shouted. When the composer entered, still limping from his (almost fatal) car accident, he was greeted with derisive laughter. Whistles and shouts of protest overwhelmed the scattered applause often not allowing the singers to hear the orchestra. "Butterfly is pregnant " one man shouted when a breeze swelled Storchio's kimono. "By Toscanini" answered another. The audience howled. Puccini's use of actual birdsong in the "vigil" music was answered by rooster crows. When the curtain finally fell there was total silence shattered only by Pietro Mascagni, Puccini's old and bitter rival, weeping loudly and haranguing the audience for its disgraceful behavior. Puccini's publisher Tito Ricordi (and the composer) always held that these demonstrations were the work of an organized claque of rivals (including Mascagni) who had waited years to bring him down. William Berger has an another interesting take:

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

"Puccini's 'little operas' about ordinary people were not satisfying the national craving for something epic that would command the respect of the rest of the world. Another opera about a sad heroine. if the world didn't already see them as a nation of emotional teary lightweights with soft gooey centers..."

Puccini had his revenge (although he made some small but important revisions after Milan) and the piece received a triumphant reception only a few months later in the smaller theater at Brescia- perhaps tauntingly close to Milan. BUTTERFLY went through several versions but quickly it became one the most performed and beloved operas in the repertory.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dr. von Lyric's "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

My friends at BLO are currently engaged in mounting a production of Madama Butterfly - that quintessential portrayal of Japanese culture by a Western artist - with all that that suggests in terms of condescension, buried racism, and sentimental glorification coupled with transcendent sympathy and deeply felt basic human understanding. Japonisme... Orientalism... cultural imperialism... subjects of uncommon complexity, sensitivity and ambiguity. And in that context, what are we to make of that other most famous European depiction of the superficial surfaces of Japanese life, The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan? Some entries to ponder... - Dr. von Lyric

Groucho Marx on more familiar ground

 a rare view of the D'Oyly Carte Savoyards in action (in 1926)

 I couldn't resist giving you this video of Sir Thomas Allen (who as you know will be joining BLO this season to direct Cosi Fan Tutte, and sing the role of Don Alfonso) and his "little list" - even though (as sung at the London Proms) it's pretty full of very English references (and still pretty funny)

 2 versions of "Three Little Maids"

from the 1999 Mike Leigh movie about Gilbert and Sullivan and the creation of THE MIKADO (if you haven't seen!)

and from the recent London revival of the 1939 Broadway show THE HOT MIKADO


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus is a series we will bring to you each production. This is a firsthand glimpse of what it is like as a member of the BLO Chorus.  

Ms. Schnitzer's feet in Geisha socks!
"Staging is well underway, and director Lillian Groag is a brilliant, inventive and extremely detail-oriented director.

Dana Schnitzer
For those of us who are playing geishas, the last couple of rehearsals have felt a bit like how rubbing your belly, patting your head and hopping on one foot simultaneously must feel. There are so many elements to remember, as we are now combining together the music (memorized), staging, and incredibly specific geisha mannerisms all at once. Lilllian told us, "we are not pretending to be Japanese...we are simply presenting a story about Japan to our audience". Indeed we are, and what a foreboding challenge it is! Clad in flowy rehearsal robes, knee pads and tabby socks, we have practiced kneeling, standing gracefully from a kneel (which, by the way, is really hard), bowing, opening parasols, closing parasols, twirling parasols, tilting the head just so, how to walk, how to accept a cup of sake......the list goes on. But when we get it all right (or close to right), and Lillian tells us we are 'like perfect flowers', all the hard work is worth it. The principal artists sound phenomenal, and all of the pieces of this operatic puzzle are starting to fit together. I am excited to finish staging and start running the show!"

Pucciniana #4


The Un bel di Variations

by John Conklin, BLO Artistic Advisor

Sometimes it is interesting to see MADAMA BUTTERFLY sung "naked" - without the white makeup, the piled up geisha hair, the enveloping kimono. Here are such performances by Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Eleanor Steber and Teresa Stratas.
 Renata Tebaldi

Leontyne Price

 Eleanor Steber

Teresa Stratas

Remember - Butterfly's "real" age in the opera is but one year older than this teenager

In this excerpt from Franco Zeffirelli's 2002 film Callas Forever, the captivating French actress Fanny Ardant plays ( a mostly fictionalized ) Maria Callas in the last year of her life. Alone (except for eavesdropping figure of her manager - Jeremy Irons) she listens - and sings along - to her own recording of Butterfly

Another place where we can see singers deeply involved in a role but out of a theatrical context (and away from the gaze of an audience) - "on their own" as it were - is in, often very revelatory, rehearsal footage. In this instance it is, of course, the BUTTERFLY Act 1 love duet, Vogliatemi bene,  rather than our Un bel di.

With Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu

Monday, October 22, 2012



Based on the Belasco play with music incorporating bits of Puccini. Sylvia Sydney is quite affective as a delicate and wistful Butterfly going against her image as a film noir tough girl heroine. She worked with such Hollywood stars as Spencer Tracy and Henry Fonda and in such classic 30's pictures as Fritz Lang's FURY and Hitchcock's SABOTAGE (both 1931) but she is perhaps best remembered by contemporary audiences as the gravel voiced Juno in Tim Burton's BEETLEJUICE (she's the one who exhales her cigarette smoke out throught her knife slashed throat - If you haven't seen the movie, don't ask...just go see it) - John Conklin - BLO Artistic Advisor

Mary Pickford in a silent version (1915)

Implied racism or just good clean fun?

2 clips from a very curious 1962 film directed by Jack Cardiff and starring Yves Montand and Edward G. Robinson... and Shirley MacLaine. A complicated plot which somehow ends up with MacLaine in full geisha drag fooling everybody and appearing in a movie version of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY where she sings Un Bel Di (don't ask) Silly,even vaguely grotesque ... but not unwatchable!

We've seen Sylvia Sydney, Mary Pickford, Marlon Brando, and Ricardo Montalban putting on Japanese makeup and here's another slue of Hollywood actors in "yellowface"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dr. von Lyric's "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

#1 A selection from Callas's Farewell London recital. Elegant (as usual), expressively poignant (always), and vocally problematic (sometimes). The striking black and white gown somehow seems emblematic of the sharp divisions, drastic ruptures, and stark controversies in her life and art that haunted and illuminated her fabulous journey.

# 2 Callas gave many fascinating interviews (candid, self-dramatizing, honest, and perhaps dramatically fabricated) but these, with the sympathetic but acute and knowledgeable British opera impresario Lord Harewood, are by a long shot the best! - Dr. von Lyric 

Monday, October 15, 2012



1957 starring Marlon Brando, Miiko Taka, Miyoshi Umeki, Red Buttons
Directed by Joshua Logan - screenplay by Paul Osborn from the novel by James Michener
Commentary by BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin

Hollywood attempts to deal with racism and prejudice, and from beneath the (not unexpectedly) glossy and often glib exterior at a somewhat leisurely pace, an often moving experience emerges. Marlon Brando is as usual almost hypnotically watchable, quiet yet commanding, relaxed but emitting coiled tension, witty, puckish yet deeply committed.

SAYONARA presents in a way two alternative endings to MADAMA BUTTERFLY

a ) Pinkerton and Butterfly get married and live happily-ever-after

or b) they both commit suicide
In a movie about corrosive Western prejudices towards Japanese culture filmed in Japan with Japanese actresses as the two leading women. Why would you cast Ricardo Montalban as a Kabuki actor? (It's Hollywood, Jake)

And then there's Brando own performance (in "yellowface") a year before in THE TEAHOUSE of the AUGUST MOON. Even here in very dubious (and controversial) circumstances you somehow can't take your eyes off him. Is he terrible, embarrassing, or great?

For an interesting and extensive layout of Hollywood's portrayal of East Asian culture, here's a wikipedia link (there seems to be an appropriate air of uneasy confusion and controversy about this article on the part of Wikipedia)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus is a new series we will bring to you each production. This is a firsthand glimpse of what it is like as a member of the BLO Chorus. Our first guest blogger is Soprano, Dana Schnitzer.

Not from BLO's Production
          "Madama Butterfly will be my second show as a part of the Boston Lyric Opera chorus. I had a blast in Macbeth last season, and I am honored to be returning for this season! On day one, I received a warm welcome from my singer colleagues, and had a chance to catch up with several of them before rehearsal over the tea and delicious snacks that were provided for us. The room was pre-set; the chairs and music stands inviting us to get to work. Chorusmaster Michelle Alexander, with whom I've worked both in the BLO setting as well as in private coachings, was extremely prepared and full of energy as usual. I had the pleasure of meeting coach/accompanist James Myers, who I've heard great things about. We all spoke through all of the text in rhythm before singing, which is always a good idea so as to perfect our Italian diction. Next, as we sang, our group of seasoned professionals made notes and corrections here and there, quickly pulling together the tricky choral sections of the opera. By the end of rehearsal, we sounded really good. I have to say, though, that humming chorus is TRICKY...especially humming on a high Bb, yikes!! In our second rehearsal we "presented our work" to Maestro Andrew Bizantz, and he was quite pleased with us. Maestro is hysterically funny and yet incredibly time efficient and clear with his directions. What I loved most were the specific reasons Maestro explained for making the musical choices that he did; this helped us to commit vocally and will undoubtedly help us commit dramatically onstage. We heard a bit from the principals last night, each one impeccably prepared and vocally perfect for their roles. I am very excited for what is sure to be a beautiful and exciting production!" -- Dana Schnitzer, Soprano

Dana Schnitzer, Soprano, has worked with numerous opera companies including Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Boston. Recent concert highlights include Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony with the Metropolitan Chorale and Beethoven's Mass in C at The Tanglewood Festival. Ms. Schnitzer has placed in numerous vocal competitions, and participated in several young artist programs including the Caramoor Bel Canto program, PORTopera and the Britten-Pears Programme in the UK. She holds a MM in Voice Performance from the New England Conservatory, and will complete her DMA at BU in 2013. She maintains a large private voice studio, is Founder/Artistic Director of MetroWest Opera, Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Chorale, and voice teacher/opera coordinator at the BU Tanglewood Institute. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pucciniana #3

In scouring the internet for fun and interesting Pucciniana I took a page out of my friend Dr. von Lyric's playbook and stopped over at YouTube. A French group called L'OpĂ©ra imaginaire created some interesting cartoon depictions of popular Puccini arias. Here we have one from Madama Butterfly and another from Tosca. Enjoy! - Amanda Villegas



Friday, October 12, 2012

Pucciniana #2

In celebration of rehearsals for BLO's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, we continue our daily look at many various (VERY varied) aspects of Puccini and his works. I have been helped here by loans from the collection of my esteemed colleague Dr. von Lyric (who you know from his contributions to this very blog.) and the work of my co-editor for this series- Amanda Villegas . Enjoy!  - John Conklin

"They say that emotionalism is a sign of weakness, but I like to be weak" - Giacomo Puccini

Puccini - composer, celebrity, world traveler, uxorious husband, lover, serial adulterer, cosmopolitan sophisticate, country squire, yachtsman, gourmet, enormously successful international musical figure, caring friend, implacable enemy, raconteur, wit, and tortured artist.

Be sure to listen all the way to the end!

"Almighty God touched me with his little finger and told me to write for the theater - mind , only the theater." - Giacomo Puccini

"After the piano, my favorite instrument is the rifle" - Giacomo Puccini (on the pleasures of Torre del Lago)

"My life is a sea of sadness, and I am stuck with it" - Giacomo Puccini (after his nearly fatal motoring accident)

"People are sick now of my sugary music" -Giacomo Puccini (between the composition of Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West)

"My opera will be given incomplete, and then someone will come on the stage and say to the public 'At this point thecomposer died.'" - Giacomo Puccini (in anticipation of the first night of TURANDOT)

Dr. von Lyric's "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

"This is a most trenchant and probing analytical study of the 19th century cult of the showman-pianist and a poignant and ominous deconstruction of the brutal perils and bruising violence coupled with the disturbing grace and hysterical delicacy latent in pianistic virtuosity."

"Encore! Encore!"

"We will be revisiting this genially brilliant anarchist in subsequent postings." - Dr. von Lyric

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pucciniana #1

Leading up to the Opening Night of Madama Butterfly, we bring you Pucciniana: A look at the world Puccini created and lived in. This is Pucciniana #1 come back each day for more fun!

Above is a video of Puccini playing piano and below a photograph of a very young Puccini.

Young Giacomo Puccini

Monday, October 8, 2012


"As the BLO production of MADAMA BUTTERFLY fast approaches (it goes into rehearsal today!) we will see many more blog entries connected to Puccini's great piece and our production of it. Today we start a weekly post entitled "Butterfly Goes to the Movies" in which we explore Hollywood's fascination with the tangled and dramatically ambiguous relationship (usually erotically charged between East and West and the complexities of Japan's culture (particularly with the almost obsession curiosity about the world of the geisha.)" - John Conklin, BLO Artistic Advisor


M BUTTERFLY (1993) directed by David Cronenberg with a screen play by David Henry Hwang based on his play of the same name. With Jeremy Irons and John Lone

"Only a man knows how a women is supposed to act" from "M Butterfly"

A compelling telling (somewhat fictionalized) of the incredible (but true)story of a French diplomat's infatuation with a Chinese opera performer. Believing (or deluding himself?) that Song Liling is a women, he carries on this obsessional affair for 20 years. From the NY Times review by Janet Maslin "...(the film) works best as a fascinatingly cold -blooded assessment of love...This Frenchman views Asians with such condescension that he is deeply gratified by the fantasy of a passive Asian lover. But when the love affair turns to bitterness and betrayal, Gallimard at last tells the unmasked Liling "You're nothing like my Butterfly" "Are you sure?" Liling asks. The film can be seen as a dark, unnerving exploration of that answer.

The film certainly has it's flaws(the pacing is often annoyingly slow, the tone often flat and distancing) but the lead performances are in the end mesmerizing and its direct connection to the themes, story and music of Puccini's opera make it particularly relevant for a viewing now.

'spoiler alert' - this is the shocking and violent (and moving) climactic scene of the film

An interview with the playwright in which he discuses the script's connection to the Puccini. In the DVD extras there is an interesting interview with David Cronenberg (This is in some ways a very untypical Cronenberg film- he is responsible for some of the most elegantly shocking, oddly witty, and truly scary "horror" films - "Dead Ringers", "Scanners", "The Fly")

Although not a very high quality video , in this scene from the Broadway production of the play as performed by John Lithgow and B J Wong on a Tony award broadcast, it is interesting to contrast Lithgow's rather brash, rather "American" take on the part with Iron's cool reserve . And the dialogue exchange has a very pointed connection to MADAMA BUTTERFLY.

Read more here on the "real" Gallimard

Friday, October 5, 2012

MADAMA BUTTERFLY - For Further Study (and Enjoyment!) - Books

There are many, many studies of Puccini's life and work and of BUTTERFLY itself . BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin recommends a few to start off with...


by Mary Jane Phillips-Malz
Northwestern University Press Boston 2002

A personal, opinionated, persuasive, illuminating view of Puccini (by the author of the magisterial biography VERDI) Based on previously unexamined correspondence and interviews, it presents Puccini in the intriguing context of his operatically conceived life - his public triumphs (and failures) and his private failures (and triumphs)

by Conrad Wilson
Phaidon Press London 1997 (20th Century Composers Series)

Well written and organized overview of both Puccini's controversial and often difficult personality and his still rather controversial place in the ranks of the very greatest opera composers. With many very interesting illustrations

by William Berger
Vintage Books 2005

A very frustrating book - often appalingly glib and superficial, often surprising insightful and thought provoking . Take your pick.... maybe browsing through it calmly is the way to go? Or... throwing it across the room in a fit of justified annoyance.

Studies of the operas:

by Charles Osborne
Da Capo Press 1982

by William Ashbrook
Cornell University Press 1968

Both books present detailed essays and a broad survey of all of Puccini's operas (production history, musical analysis, etc) with good chapters on BUTTERFLY

Julian Budden
Oxford University Press 2002

The best. In -depth scholarship, narrative pace , brilliant analytical insight, fascinating research ....but only to be expected from the author of the indispensable THE OPERAS OF VERDI

English National Opera Guides
editor: Nichols John
Riverrun Press NY 1984

Part of the excellent series from the ENO. Historical background and context , japonisme, a study of the extensive "tribulations" that the score went through, the text of the John Luther Long short story (fascinating reading), a musical thematic guide, the libretto in Italian and English....much to savor and ponder

by Brian Burke-Gaffney
Eastbridge Books Norwalk Ct 2004

If you have time for only one BUTTERFLY read....I'd make it this A compelling study of the opera, its basis in history , the cultural conflicts of East and West, the "legend" of the "real" Butterfly, the role of Nagasaki itself in our Western culture, Japanese performers in the role of Cio-Cio San... etc...all in fascinating detail. Many rarely reproduced photographs.