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  Directed by
  • Full Frame
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian
  • Booklet - Brief synopsis and cast credits
  • Web access - Link to the NVC Arts website
Madama Butterfly
Warner Vision/Warner Vision . R4 . COLOR . 144 mins . PG . PAL


Madama Butterfly’s reputation as one of the most-loved classical operas ever conceived began with small and humble beginnings. Inspired by his sister's recollections of her missionary tour of Japan, playwright John Luther Long wrote Madama Butterfly as a novella, before enlisting David Belasco to assist in its adaptation to the stage. During the production's profitable tour throughout the United States and Europe, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini witnessed the stage play and decided that its themes of love, tragedy and cultural misunderstanding would serve as the ingredients for an enthralling and dramatic opera. Puccini composed the opera, while Long himself assisted with its libretto.

Puccini’s ambitious masterpiece premiered in 1904 at La Scala, Milan, and was immediately vilified by audiences, forcing the composer to revise it. Upon its alterations, Madama Butterfly was a success and, along with La Boheme (1895) and Tosca (1900), is now recognised as one of the most famous operatic works ever written. Its success has deservedly earned Puccini a place alongside the great Italian composers, Gioacchio Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi. Madama Butterfly’s impact on the psyche of popular culture is significant: its resonance has proved to the inspiration for a series of diverse works, including Malcolm MacLaren’s idiosyncratic pop-operatic curio, Madame Butterfly, and the Broadway musical, Miss Saigon.

Madama Butterfly’s tragic story occurs in a house overlooking Nagasaki Harbour and begins with the arrival of Lieutenant Pinkerton, a U.S. naval officer, who is to be married to Cio-Cio-San, a geisha known as Butterfly. The American Consul, Sharpless, is justifiably concerned at Pinkerton’s seemingly disrespectful attitude towards Japanese custom and his apparent lack of seriousness for the marriage. As the wedding ceremony takes place, Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze, denounces the marriage and his niece. Enraged, Pinkerton orders the wedding guests away and comforts a devastated Butterfly.

Three years have passed since Pinkerton has returned to America; in a futile attempt, Sharpless tries to convince Butterfly that she should not wait for the naval officer. The marriage-broker Goro informs Butterfly that, for the sake of honour and financial security, she should marry the wealthy Yamadori, who has requested her hand. Unable to re-marry because her marriage is governed by American law, Butterfly presents to Sharpless her child of whom Pinkerton is the father. The firing of a cannon heralds the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship; Butterfly and her faithful maid, Suzuki, wait expectantly.

Pinkerton arrives with Kate, his new wife, with a secret agenda: he intends to persuade Butterfly into handing over the child to them. Pinkerton becomes aware of the emotional turmoil that he has inflicted upon the unfortunate Cio-Cio-San, courtesy of his contemptuous attitude. When Suzuki relates to Pinkerton of Butterfly’s love and adoration for him, he feels unfathomable regret. As the reason for her husband’s visitation becomes more apparent, Butterfly bids farewell to her son and, using her father’s ceremonial blade, commits suicide. Moments after she performs the fatal act, Pinkerton discovers Butterfly’s lifeless body.


Madama Butterfly is presented in a screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not anamorphic.

For the most part, black levels are high; the only real exception to this rule appears within the presentation’s first minutes where shots of the audience seem to be quite opaque. There is a good amount of shadow detail present. Details are sharp, although there is evidence of minor edge enhancement, mostly affecting the stage participants. However, it did not seem to be too disruptive to the viewing experience.

Brightness and contrast levels are consistent, with the exception of two brief fluctuations occurring at 6 minutes and 25 seconds, and 2 hours and 21 minutes. There are no evident MPEG artefacts, although minor grain is present throughout the presentation; at no time was it deemed intrusive. There are no discernible film-to-video artefacts. No evidence of colour-bleeding or oversaturation is present. Indeed, to the perception of this reviewer it seemed as though the colour was somewhat muted.

Despite the fact that Madama Butterfly is a live presentation and runs in excess of two hours, no layer transition was detected.

There is only one audio selection available, that of the Italian Dolby Digital 2.0. There are five subtitle options present on this disc, including English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

The front speakers naturally support the weight of the classical soundtrack, providing instrumentation and vocals that are always clear and easy to comprehend. The rear surrounds lend constant reinforcement to the front soundstage, producing some moments of wonderful ambiance. Puccini’s majestic composition, performed by the Chorus and Orchestra of the Arena di Verona and conducted by Maurizio Arena, is presented through all five channels. No perceptible sound drop or distortion was detected.

Madama Butterfly boasts no extras, other than an eighteen-page booklet containing a brief synopsis and cast credits, and a link to the NVC Arts website, accessible via a DVD-ROM drive.

Madama Butterfly has the unique distinction of being the first American story to be adapted into an European opera and is easily the most accessible of all Puccini's works. Consequently, it serves as the perfect introduction to classical opera. Despite the inherent limitations associated with the original source material, Madama Butterfly will be an essential purchase for dedicated opera-lovers.

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  •   And I quote...
    "... An adequate transfer of Puccini's seminal operatic masterpiece..."
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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