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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Madame Butterfly (1995)

"It would be a terrible sin to break those frail wings or crush that trusting heart."
- Sharpless (Richard Cowan)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 26, 2002

Stars: Ying Huang, Richard Troxell
Other Stars: Ning Liang, Richard Bowan, Jing Ma Fan, Christopheren Nomura, Constance Hauman, Yoshi Oida, Orchestre de Paris, James Conlon, conductor
Director: Frédéric Mitterand

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suicide)
Run Time: 02h:13m:44s
Release Date: February 26, 2002
UPC: 043396056701
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B-A- C-

DVD Review

Although Giacomo Puccini added many great operas to the standard repertoire, Madame Butterfly stands above them as both the most accessible and thematically deep. This film adaptation of the opera, using the music and vocals for the most part faithfully, is a real treat for the opera lover. In late 19th century Japan, Lt. Pinkerton (Richard Troxell) of the U.S. Navy is to marry young (15 years old) Cio-Cio-San, or Butterfly (Ying Huang). She defies her family and her religion to marry a foreigner, becoming an outcast in the process. When Act II opens, however, Cio-Cio-San has not seen Pinkerton in over three years. She has a young son by him, and still holds out hope that he will return to her. When his ship does come, however, Pinkerton is not alone: he has his American wife with him and wants his son. The tragic tale of a pure and loving heart horribly wronged (cf. Fatal Attraction, which made notable use of the music) is a natural for the opera. It also translates well to film here. The greater intimacy that the camera provides emphasizes the human, tragic elements even more profoundly. Director Frédéric Mitterand does a fine job of presenting this opera, making good use of both exteriors and interiors as appropriate to the mood, regardless of where the libretto sets the action. The lighting is warm and simulates the candlelight well, making for a quite organic presentation.One of the merits of this production is that, apparently for the first time, the Oriental characters are played by Oriental actors, and the Americans are played by American actors. Of course, they're all singing Italian, so the difference doesn't show up in the verbal elements, but this does lend a veracity to the characterizations. Newcomer Ying Huang is an excellent Cio-Cio-San, with a fine voice that when first met seems almost ethereal. Although her ethnic background certainly was key in her casting, she brings off the character as intelligent and defiant yet trusting far too well in her heart. The American cast also does fine work, most notably Richard Cowan as Sharpless, the American consul, who acts as the conscience of the piece. Ning Liang in the key role of Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San's servant, is excellent as well, emoting sensitively and on a far more credible level than one usually sees in an operatic actor. Puccini's music is brought forth beautifully by the cast and the Orchestre de Paris, under the baton of James Conlon. The inexpressibly beautiful Un bel di is rendered carefully and gorgeously without, as is too easy to do, descending into schmaltz. I particularly admire the mild emphasis given to the many ironic quotations from The Star-Spangled Banner that are interwoven with Oriental motifs. This is a first-rate production with an excellent cast that I recommend highly.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen picture has some problems, most notable of which is excessive use of edge enhancement. This produces major ringing whenever a character appears against a window (which is quite frequently) or against the sky. In less contrasty scenes, the EE is much less noticeable, so the grade is not as low as it might be. But this really detracts from what is otherwise a fine presentation, since the EE tends to obscure much fine detail in a misguided attempt to provide phony detail. Colors are good and black levels are fine, with decent shadow detail.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround audio is quite acceptable. The orchestra comes from all speakers, while the vocals come only from the front soundstage, giving one the sensation of sitting in the orchestra, which is not to all tastes, but doesn't bother me at all. The audio has a nice presence and a broad soundstage. Hiss and noise are nearly nonexistent. Though there isn't a lot of low frequency material, when it's present the disc reproduces it well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:38s

Extras Review: The only notable extra is a making-of featurette that focuses on Ying Huang and her selection for the role. The featurette (11m:49s not including an ad for the video) contains some interesting material, including the fact that Huang is actually a coloratura soprano and thus not really suited to the role naturally. We get some behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as well that is highly interesting. The difficulties of lip-synching in one language not your own, while listening to direction in yet another language, are obvious and lend an appreciation to the final result. The chaptering is quite inadequate, with one chapter covering several musical numbers and some running well over fifteen minutes in duration. Also, where's the theatrical trailer? Answer: On the Don Giovanni DVD. Also, while there are subtitles for English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai, French is nowhere to be found. I guess our Quebecois friends are out of luck here. The layer change is well-placed on a fade to black after Un bel di

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A wonderful film production that far exceeds any stagebound production; a superlative cast and a good audio transfer makes this a must-buy for the DVD opera buff. Alas, there's far too much edge enhancement on the video, but the performance and a nice featurette help make up for it.


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