The film clearly shows a black US sailor assisting Pinkerton to move into his Japanese home. This is highly unlikely as, sadly, the US Navy was one of the last US institutions to accept black recruits and even as as late as WW2, only permitted them to serve as cooks or cleaners, etc. See more »
Since many of us have limited opportunities to see operas on the stage, it is often beneficial to be able to see them on TV (or various recorded video media) rather than just listening to audio recordings. When you're not familiar with a particular story, it is helpful to be able to see the opera performed so you can see what's going on as well as hear the music. For years, this was the best video version of Madame Butterfly widely available in the U.S.A.
Set in the late 1800's, Madame Butterfly, originally a play by American David Belasco, is the story of the teenage Japanese bride (Cio Cio San) of an American naval captain (Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton). Taking the common 19th century western view toward Asians, Captain Pinkerton takes this relationship much less seriously than Butterfly does which leads to tragedy. The music is some of the most beautiful and emotional ever; some parts practically reach into your chest and pull your heart out! The famous aria "Un bel di" which Butterfly sings while waiting for her husband to return is especially moving. In this version, she is shown walking the hills above the ocean and looking out toward sea while singing.
Placido Domingo is excellent as Captain Pinkerton, and Mirella Freni does a fine job singing as Butterfly, though there is the problem of having a 38-year-old Italian woman playing the part of a teenage Japanese girl. People (especially westerners who had never seen Japanese people in the days before TV) could probably pardon this seeing it on the stage from a distance, but the camera in close-up shows us incongruous details that are difficult to ignore. Ms. Freni is very pretty and relatively slender for an opera soprano, but, especially in the profile shots, can only pass for a convincing Butterfly in the context of traditional staged opera. We do have access now to a more "realistic" movie version of the opera by Frederic Mitterand (1995) in which at least Asians portray the Japanese characters. Mitterand's version is also has that more big-budget movie look with on- location settings and lots of extras, while this TV version by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is more intimately filmed in close settings, though there is nothing stage-like about it. The young singers in Mitterand's movie, although their looks are much more appropriate to their characters, can't match Domingo's and Freni's singing.
Which one to get? Mitterand's newer version looks better. The Ponnelle version looks great also if you can tolerate a European Butterfly and has first class opera stars. So I guess it comes down to whether you want to see a movie or an opera.
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