Since I was 9 years old I’ve known that December 7th was St Ambroise Day – not because I was Catholic (which I wasn’t), not because the Roman church in our neighbour honoured that Saint, but because he was the patron Saint of the city of Milan. And – and here comes the important part – and it was always the opening night of the new season at La Scala.
And I vowed that one day when I grew up I would be at one of those opening nights; it is still on my bucket list but at €2,400.00 a ticket I have a feeling that is one item that will never be checked off. So as the close of December 7th approaches another Feast of Saint Ambrogio has come and the curtains at La Scala have parted on one more Opening Night without me. It would have been a great night to be there: the opera was Madama Butterfly and Bryan Hymel, one of my favourite tenors, was singing Pinkerton.
Butterfly was the third live opera I saw when the Met toured to Toronto and brought it to Maple Leaf Gardens back on May 27, 1958. It was a stunning new production starring Antonietta Stella and Carlo Bergonzi, conducted by Dimitri Metropolous with staging by Yoshio Aoyama and designs by Motohiro Nagasaka, both major figures in Japanese theatre. Since then I have seen productions in Toronto, Chicago, Warsaw and Rome and heard it innumerable times on the radio and on the turntable.
This year at La Scala conductor Riccardo Chailly chose the original two act version that had its disastrous premiere at the same theatre in February of 1904. In an article in the New York Times he says it “is partly an act of contrition, a symbolic apology to Puccini for the historic rebuff 112 years ago.” And he continues on to say that he believes that the first version is as good as the final 1907 version – Puccini was to write a total of five versions before settling on a final one. The article suggests some of the reasons that first night in Milan may have been what Puccini called “a lynching” and also highlights a few of the major differences in the two works – it’s well worth the read and can be found here.
One interlude common to all the versions is the gentle “Humming Chorus” as Ci0-Cio-San, Susuki and little Trouble keep vigil through the night waiting for Pinkerton to come up the little hill. It is a moment of quiet before the emotional storm of the last scenes.
This touching performance is by the Hungarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra.
On this day in 1724: Tumult of Thorn: Religious unrest is followed by the execution of nine Protestant citizens and the mayor of Thorn (Toruń) by Polish authorities.