Opera Scotland

Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly in Scotland

Posted 27 Apr 2014

Puccini's Madama Butterfly was first performed in Scotland by the Moody-Manners company at the Edinburgh Lyceum on 9 October 1907.  By 1909, the company had given fourteen performances over five tours, in Edinburgh (Lyceum), Glasgow (Theatre Royal) and Dundee (Her Majesty's). Fanny Moody herself always took the title role, with Joseph O'Mara and Seth Hughes sharing Pinkerton.

Over the next few years, the Quinlan, O'Mara and Beecham companies performed the work frequently. By 1918 it was taken up by Carl Rosa Opera, and many performances were given in the four cities.  The title role was generally sung by the young Eva Turner, or by Beatrice Miranda, a highly regarded Australian soprano who settled in Edinburgh.  Butterfly remained one of the most popular works in Carl Rosa schedules right through to the fifties. 

The British National Opera Company (BNOC), the forerunner of today's Royal Opera, visited Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen in the twenties with a wide repertoire.  Butterfly was often conducted by John Barbirolli, with Pinkerton sung by a great British lyric tenor of the time, Heddle Nash. Sadler's Wells opera started touring in the war years, and in 1941 Beatrice Miranda came out of retirement to rescue a performance at the Edinburgh King's.

Butterfly remained a fixture in the Sadler's Wells touring schedules, and the 1959 visit is particularly noteworthy. The conductor was Alexander Gibson, and the company manager for the tour was Peter Hemmings. Most of the singers were Australian, with the title role taken by Dame Joan Hammond.  A champion golfer in her youth, she toured the country towing a caravan that she parked at golf courses.  The day might be spent in healthy exercise, but she always arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to prepare for the performance.

Alexander Gibson chose Butterfly as the work to launch Scottish Opera's first season in 1962. The director was Dennis Arundell, with Elaine Malbin and Charles Craig in the leads.  A new production, directed by Peter Ebert, opened in 1965, being frequently revived for over a decade.  Those singing Butterfly included Felicia Weathers, Joanna Bruno and Lorna Haywood. Pinkerton was variously sung by Charles Craig, George Shirley, John Treleaven, and David Hillman.  Franco Bonisolli and Neil Shicoff both made British debuts in this role before going on to international careers.

Scottish Opera's third production, mounted for the company's 25th birthday in 1987, was again conducted by Alexander Gibson, and directed by the famous Spanish actress Nuria Espert. Yoko Watanabe sang Cio-Cio-San, with Seppo Ruohonen as Pinkerton and Norman Bailey as Sharpless. In the 1990 revival, John Mauceri conducted a cast led by Janice Cairns and Arthur Davies.

The present Scottish Opera staging, by Sir David McVicar, was first seen in 2000, with Natalia Dercho, Ian Storey and Jason Howard, conducted by Guido Ajmone-Marsan.  Francesco Corti, in his company debut, conducted the most recent revival in 2007, with Rebecca Nash, John Hudson and Garry Magee.

Madama Butterfly in recent years has also featured prominently in the touring repertoire of the Ellen Kent organisation, and has been seen regularly in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. 

By contrast, the work has never featured at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Our illustration is of the poster from the first production in Italy (credit Wikimedia Commons).

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