Madame Butterfly (1995)

Genres - Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Film-Opera, Musical Drama, Musical Romance, Period Film, Romantic Drama, Tragedy  |   Release Date - May 3, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 135 min.  |   Countries - Germany , France , United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This 1995 Frédéric Mitterand production of Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly demonstrates the power of film to expand the audiovisual horizons of opera. First, it presents mostly young, attractive singers -- such as 23-year-old Chinese soprano Ying Huan -- in the principal roles instead of the typical aging and often portly singers. Huan's stunning voice and innocent face make her a nearly perfect Cio-Cio San. Second, the film sets the action in a lush, lakeside Tunisian hamlet specially constructed to resemble the setting of the opera, a Japanese town outside Nagasaki. Such an arrangement permits the camera to break free of the stage-bound environment and roam outdoors and indoors, marrying nature with the culture and costumes of 1904 Japan and the splendor of Puccini's music. Third, the film uses technical magic -- acoustics, stereo sound reproduction, period costumes, special effects, careful cinematography, and subtitles -- to take the opera well beyond the limits of the conventional opera stage. Of course, it is the haunting orchestral and vocal melodies that tell the story. As the plot builds to its heartbreaking climax, Huang, tenor Richard Troxell, and the other performers -- mezzo-soprano Ning Liang as Butterfly's servant Suzuki and baritone Richard Cowan as the American consul -- all perform brilliantly. Even opera-haters will love this Madame Butterfly.