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Watch: Uncovering the musical secrets of Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Antonio Pappano and Ermonela Jaho unpick the opera's famous score with a musical masterclass.

By Asher Korner (Former Assistant Content Producer)

10 April 2017 at 3.16pm | Comment on this article

The score of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly is one of the richest in all opera. From the sweet simplicity of the love story that develops in Act I, where Cio-Cio-San falls in love with the American Lieutenant Pinkerton, to the tense and defiant atmosphere of Act II, giving way to the opera's tragic end, the music is packed with twists and turns.

‘One of the great challenges of Puccini is the relationship between singer and conductor, because everything is governed — not only the melody but — by the words, and by the story that is being told’, explains Antonio Pappano, the Music Director of The Royal Opera.

Drawing on Japanese folk melodies, Puccini developed the score alongside librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, after seeing David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly in London in 1900. The formidable trio had already created La bohème and Tosca together, and worked on Madama Butterfly to create what is hailed as one of Puccini’s most evocative and atmospheric works.

In this film, broadcast as part of the live cinema relay of the opera, soprano Ermonela Jaho, who performs the role of Cio-Cio-San, rehearses and discusses some of the score's most memorable moments, exploring the emotion behind the notes.

‘There are so many colours [in the score] that describe her simplicity, her vulnerability, and she is in love! Sometimes the simple things are the most important', she exclaims.

Pappano and Jaho discuss the delicate musical touches that characterize the mood, including the Japanese melodies woven through the opera, and the high soprano line floating above the orchestral texture, just as the smoke from Pinkerton's ship will eventually appear high on the horizon.

'It's amazing – the push and pull of this music – it’s so spontaneous', says Pappano, describing how the music elaborates on Cio-Cio-San’s total confidence, before it is smashed by Pinkerton’s eventual return.

For more exclusive films, subscribe to the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:

Madama Butterfly runs until 25 April 2017. Tickets are sold out, but 49 tickets for each performance will be released the week before as part of Friday Rush.

The production was broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 30 March 2017. Find your nearest cinema.

The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Aud Jebsen, Spindrift Al Swaidi and The Maestro’s Circle.

By Asher Korner (Former Assistant Content Producer)

10 April 2017 at 3.16pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Antonio Pappano, by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Cio-Cio-San, Ermonela Jaho, giacomo puccini, Madama Butterfly, orchestra, score

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