Prima Donna at Large

Posted by: Anonymous

Prima Donna at Large - 01/12/00 09:47 AM

Barbara, here's a story you might appreciate:

There's a wonderful new site about the opera Tosca. It features an article called "Ten Things You Didn't Know About Tosca". One of the ten things, in fact the first one on the list, is a story about the first American production of the play La Tosca, with the actress Fanny Davenport. The American audiences were so upset by Tosca's suicide at the end, that the ending had to be changed: instead of having Tosca leap to her death, the firing squad shoots her.

This story reminds me so much of the firing squad incident in Prima Donna at Large! By the way, if you'd like to look at the article, here it is:

10 Things You Didn't Know about Tosca

Hope the link works!

[This message has been edited by Vicki (edited 01-12-2000).]
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/12/00 10:20 AM

Yes, it works. Very informative.

I was intrigued to see the phrase "Sudden Operatic Death Syndrome" on this page. AFAIK, it was coined by someone on the opera-l list that Jon and I belong to - in fact, it might even have been Jon himself!
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/12/00 11:41 AM

Yes, I think your're right. I'm on the OPERA-L list, too, by the way, even though I don't post very often. I might even post something to OPERA-L about that site, if the person who runs it says it's all right. She used to be on OPERA-L, too, I think.
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/12/00 11:47 PM

That is an interesting page; Tosca has had a rough life. Thanks for the link, Vicki. Those fainting women in the audience, arrgh. Great way to get a little attention. It explains why the early movie-makers were uneasy about including close-ups (fear that the disembodied heads would cause pregnant ladies in the audience to faint). Funny priorities: suicide is not acceptable but being shot by a row of men with rifles is okay.

I don't think Puccini worried overmuch about accuracy of detail. Butterfly shows a woman committing hara-kiri, Pinkerton's battleship is the Abraham Lincoln (battleships are named after states, not presidents), etc. Those details could have come from Belasco's play.

Then there's the problem of the fireflies. Andrew, do you have access to the score of Butterfly? Do the stage directions say anything about fireflies during the duet that ends Act I?
Posted by: Jon

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/13/00 09:06 AM

I remember the SODS discussion very well -- one of the more memorable opera-l coinages. But it certainly wasn't I who made it up. (I did coin the phrase "hitting a Homer" to describe the practice of making your role more practicable by substituting lower notes for the highest ones... in honor of contralto Louise Homer who did exactly that as shown by her surviving scores.)
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/13/00 09:48 AM

In my search for fireflies, I found the Butterfly piano score (It/Eng) first. The stage direction (in English only) refers to glow-worms. We also have the (It/Ger) full score with Italian stage-directions, in this case referring to "le lucciole", a word I don't know, but obviously a glowing thing of some sort, which shine around the lovers among the flowers and the foliage of the trees.
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/13/00 10:28 AM

Fireflies, glow-worms, same thing. Le luciole = French for firefly (Italian luciola). Thanks so much for locating that, Andrew; it's something I've been wondering about a long time.

So the fireflies are in the score and not just the idea of some production designer. For years I'd heard about the way the Met did the fireflies during the Act I love duet -- until they hired a Japanese stage director for a new production and he pointed out there are no fireflies in Japan.

The first Met production of Butterfly I ever saw came right after that revelation, so I never got to see the fireflies. Instead, cherry blossoms dropped down onto the roof of Cio-cio-san's house. It was lovely, but not the same as itty-bitty lights going on and off and sometimes moving.
Posted by: Jon

Re: Prima Donna at Large - 01/13/00 12:33 PM

On Madama Butterfly: Those interested in this opera might find the recording on Vox (with Maria Spacagna as Butterfly) especially interesting. Where most recordings of the work take 2 CDs, this one is 4 CDs for the price of 2, because it's Puccini's original (longer) version of the opera as first performed, plus appendices of all the new sections he wrote for several later revisions (the little tenor aria in Act III was a later addition, for instance). Plus track listings so you can program any desired version to play, plus references to the Belasco story and play, all carefully cross-referenced and commented on. It's just a feast of information about this opera. And its annotator (Michael Kaye, who's also given us the critical edition of The Tales of Hoffmann) announced on opera-l not long ago that once current stock runs out on this recording, a re-pressed version will probably not include the full booklet. So buy now if you're at all interested.

On fireflies: One of the nicest places in the US to see opera is at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where every June they do 4 operas in repertory (usually 1 standard, 1 novelty, 2 in between). The theater itself, on a college campus, is oddly shaped and not all that ideal on the inside, but on the outside it's heaven. Surrounded by a roomy lawn for promenading and picnicking, it's set up with a big marquee (sideless tent) where one may dine beforehand: bringing your own hamper a la Glyndebourne, or pre-ordering catered box dinners as I did. And after the show you're encouraged to linger there over a drink, and mingle with the artists when they emerge. And every night, there were fireflies all around. Too perfect. (The one summer I went, we a had a new work I've forgotten, Don Giovanni, Massenet's Cinderella, and Billy Budd in its 4-act version.)