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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 Plácido 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
It is the late 1800's. An American naval captain, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Plácido Domingo) is stationed in Japan. As is tradition he has a girl in every port. Read morePublished on April 21, 2007 by B. Chandler
We have a strong cast here (almost the strongest possible) : Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic; and then there is Domingo, Freni & Ludwig etc. Read morePublished on November 1, 2003 by BLee
This just might be my favorite of the four film versions of "Madama Butterfly" available on video. Read morePublished on February 18, 2003 by Peter Serchuk
Here we have a great recording with the essencial Butterly herself. The music and singing is superb. Read morePublished on October 14, 2002 by Kethryn Alexander
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. Read more
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? Read morePublished on June 3, 2002 by Mei L. Po
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. Read morePublished on January 21, 2002