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Thursday at the Opera: Lecture V



Thursday at the Opera: Lecture V

Our series Thursday at the Opera is back at the Institute from February 15th until March 29th.

The series will be presented by Deirdre O'Grady, Emeritus Professor of Italian and Comparative Studies of University College Dublin. The illustrated lectures she presents will consider Puccini’s works and their sources, influences, great performers in specific roles in which they triumphed, and famous stage productions. The lectures will begin on February 15th and end on March 29th. Each lecture will last about one hour starting at 6:30pm on Thursdays.
Lectures will be in English.

22nd March: Madama Butterfly (1904) and La fanciulle del West (1910). Puccini and America: two diverse visions.

By the twentieth century Puccini was extending his horizons both stylistically and geographically. For Madama Butterfly and La fanciulle del West the composer adapted dramas by the American playwright David Belasco. Madama Butterfly was the first opera cast in a contemporary setting. An interest in Japan had been awakened with the Universal Expositions in nineteenth – century Paris and London. Puccini had been present at a performance by Sada Yacco, a Japanese Geisha turned actress, in Milan in 1902. La musique japonaise/Japanese music, a selection of original Japanese tunes was subsequently published. Sada Yacco’s signature tune in the hands of Puccini became Butterfly’s Entrance aria ‘Spira sul mare e sulla terra’. It also became absorbed into the ‘love duet’ at the end of Act I. The opera tells of the abandonment of a Japanese bride by a heartless ‘Yankee vagabondo’/ ‘Wandering Yank’, and her subsequent suicide. Originally scored in two acts it, as Edgar was a failure at its first performance at La Scala Milan. Cio Cio San/Butterfly was sung by the famous soprano Rosina Storchio. On its revision, with the cutting of some racist remarks by the American Pinkerton, and its extension to three acts it triumphed later in the year in Brescia and continues to dominate stages all over the world.

Six years passed before Puccini’s next opera had its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera New York in 1910. A distinguished public witnessed its success: Puccini and Belasco were in the audience, Toscanini was in the pit, and the protagonists were Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destin. Adapted from Belasco’s drama The Girl of the Golden West the score carries the mining world of Emile Zola and Giovanni Verga to the Californian ‘Gold Rush’ of 1849 – 50. It tells of the love of a wholesome American girl of the ‘Golden West’for a Mexican bandit. The pursuit of the bandit in Giovanni Verga’s short story L’Amante di Gramigna/Gramigna’s Lover becomes a five- minute mini symphony, contained in a great symphonic opera. One notes the presence of dissonances and harmonies not present in Puccini’s earlier works. Themes as opposed to ‘arias’ dominate. Minnie’s Waltz Tune may have been borrowed by Romberg in 1935 for his famous ‘When I grow too old to dream’. The syncopated theme of the bandit also looks to American rhythms.

Fanciulla is also a comment on Californian history. The duel personality Mr. Johnson/Ramerrez reflects the psychological drama of a Mexican forced to accept American rule. The sense of dramatic tension found in Tosca allows little time for applause in this ‘American’ opera. This was Puccini’s intention. The ‘Big Country’ unfolds to blazing orchestration and vocal hurdles that places enormous demands on the singers.


Date: Thursday, March 22, 2018

Time: At 6:30 pm

Entrance : Free