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Earthquake survivors invited to La Scala gala premiere

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/7/2016 By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press
A woman checks her smartphone outside a department store with a window dedicated to Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. Principal conductor Riccardo Chailly revives Puccini's original version of ''Madama Butterfly'' for the season-opener of La Scala, where it will be performed for the first time since its hotly contested world debut 112 years ago. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) © The Associated Press A woman checks her smartphone outside a department store with a window dedicated to Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. Principal conductor Riccardo Chailly revives Puccini's original version of ''Madama Butterfly'' for the season-opener of La Scala, where it will be performed for the first time since its hotly contested world debut 112 years ago. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MILAN (AP) — Principal conductor Riccardo Chailly is reviving Puccini's original version of "Madama Butterfly" for the gala season opening Wednesday of La Scala, where it will be performed for the first time since its hotly contested world debut 112 years ago.

Chailly called it a "duty" toward Puccini to present the masterpiece as he originally intended it to be experienced.

"It is more bitter, more dramatic, more theatrically eloquent version," Chailly has said.

In a rare break with tradition, neither Italy's president nor premier will attend the gala opening of the famed Milan opera house, one of the European cultural calendar's premier events and typically attended by captains of industry, culture and politics.

President Sergio Mattarella canceled his attendance at the last minute due to the country's latest political crisis over Premier Matteo Renzi's resignation. Hopes that Renzi would be in the audience similarly withered. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini also sent his regrets.

In the place of government officials, four survivors of central Italy's recent earthquakes were invited to sit in the royal box.

The original version of "Madama Butterfly" includes harsher language by F.B. Pinkerton, the U.S. naval officer who takes Butterfly, a 15-year-old Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio San, as his wife despite his clear intentions to return home and marry an American woman.

The intensity of the long second act, which culminates with Cio-Cio San's suicide may have been particularly shocking to the early 20th Century audience, La Scala general manager Alexander Pereira said.

"Even today, I am shocked to see the scene, but in 1904 it was too much for people," Pereira said.

After it was panned in its world debut, Puccini expanded Butterfly from two acts to three, and the amended opera had its debut performance three months later in Brescia, to great success.

But Chailly notes that Puccini continued to tinker with the score, never settling on a version and thereby scuttling any pretense of a final intention.

During Wednesday's performance of the original, Uruguayan soprano Maria Jose Siri is making her debut in the role of Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), singing opposite U.S. tenor Bryan Hymel, who is bringing American swagger to the role of Pinkerton.

Carlos Alvarez, who also sang in last year's gala premiere, returns to La Scala as the U.S. consul Sharpless.

The gala season premier is being broadcast live on RAI state TV's main channel for the first time in decades as part of Pereira's effort to make La Scala more accessible.

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