The tireless perfectionism of Puccini

The next production of Israel Opera is the beloved opera Madame Butterfly

The Israel Opera  (photo credit: PR)
The Israel Opera
(photo credit: PR)
Of all the operas ever written, Madame Butterfly is considered among the top six in terms of significance and success. Performed all over the world for more than a century, Puccini’s opus is a staple for every major opera house on the planet.
Few know, however, that the version we know and love of Madame Butterfly was actually Puccini’s fifth draft of the opera. Starting in 1904, when the opera premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, to unenthusiastic reviews, Puccini ruthlessly edited and reworked the production, first touching on the libretto and then the orchestral arrangements and arias.
The same tireless insistence was alive and well earlier this week during the stage rehearsal of Madame Butterfly at the Israel Opera, presided over by world renowned conductor Daniel Oren. The entire cast was present, from international stars to local girls, for the first full dress rehearsal of the complex production.
At the front of the stage stood a thoroughly powdered and radiant Susanna Branchini, playing the role of Cio Cio San. Time and again, Oren powered through the score, stamping his feet and shouting interchangeably in Italian and Hebrew. With the premiere just days away, the company had to make use of every second to bring together the complex production. Perfecting each scene takes hours and Oren spared no effort in making certain that every single gesture, note and glance was exactly in place.
Branchini is one of several foreign artists brought in to bolster the cast of Madame Butterfly. The role of Cio Cio San, the 15-year-old Japanese girl who marries an American navy captain stationed in Japan, is not new to Branchini. In fact, it is one of the defining roles of the Italian singer’s career.
Born and raised in Rome, Branchini was surrounded by music from an early age. Her mother, though not a professional singer, kept a piano handy and expressed her passion for music in many ways. Branchini said in a recent interview that she attempted to keep her own desire to sing secret for a time, but it was quickly discovered by her mother. Almost immediately after completing her conservatory studies, Branchini was picked up by a local company to play the role of Micaela in Carmen. The following year, in 2003, she had her first go at singing Cio Cio San in Liguria, Italy.
Insecure and at the beginning of her career, Branchini delved deep into the role, studying the libretto thoroughly and identifying a clear path for herself through the narrative. Five years later, having traveled the world and performed on many stages, she returned to Cio Cio San in her hometown, Rome. The many performances she had amassed brought a new confidence to Branchini’s presence and her interpretation of Cio Cio San went from young, faltering girl to blossoming woman.
Now, 14 years after her premiere in the role, Branchini returns to the airy dojos of Japan in Tel Aviv.
As Oren shouted out correction after correction, Branchini remained perfectly calm, responding with a quick nod or single word. Her professionalism shone through her performance and in her willingness to repeat lines of song time and again. There is no question about her place on the stage, she commands her role fully and with great conviction.
This production, directed by Keita Asari and restaged by Michiko Taguchi is minimalist and stunning. The large stage, decked out in pale colored parchments with accents in rust and steel gray, offers a more delicate interpretation of Madame Butterfly than we are accustomed to seeing. Asari’s vision creates a quiet stage through which drama erupts like a volcano. Hanae Mori’s thrillingly refined costumes and Filibeck Marco’s masterful lighting provide deft hands in bringing together this unusual and cohesive Madame Butterfly.
Madame Butterfly will run at the Israel Opera July 15 to 28. For more information, visit