10 June 2012 | hof-4
The life of an opera singer
The Russian title translates to "The Return of Butterfly", referring to Madama Butterfly, the main character in the opera of the same name by Giacomo Puccini. The opera had its premiere on February 17, 1904, at the La Scala theater in Milan. In spite of the quality of the singers (Rosina Storchio, Giuseppe De Luca) the opera was poorly received, in fact booed. Puccini revised the opera, splitting the second act into two acts and making other changes. The second version was performed in Brescia on May 28, 1904 with the Ukrainian soprano Salomea Kruszelnicka in the lead role (Kruszelnicka had a hand in Puccini's changes to the opera). It was a huge success this time, and made the opera a staple of the repertoire for companies around the world, its popularity intact to this day.
The Return of Butterfly is the story of Kruszelnicka's life, especially of the interaction with her sisters that accompanied her in her tours. She was born in 1872 in Ternopil (then in Austro-Hungary, now in the Ukraine), and studied first in Lviv and then in Italy. She had triumphal successes on the best opera stages of Europe, Russia and America and sang the lead roles in more than eighty operas including the Italian repertory plus Wagner, Meyerbeer and others. She was not afraid to take risks: she sang the Italian premiere of Richard Strauss' operas Salome and Elektra at La Scala under the baton of Arturo Toscanini; both operas were considered at the time "too avant-garde" and, in the case of Salome, "scandalous". She was a fervent promoter of Ukrainian folk songs and works by Ukrainian composers.
In 1910 Kruszelnicka married Italian attorney Cesare Ricchioni and settled (when not in tour) in the resort town of Viareggio on the Tyrrhenian Sea. In 1920, at the height of her career, she left opera, and started concert tours. In August 1939, after the death of her husband, Krushelnytska returned to Lviv. Shortly after Soviet forces entered the Western Ukraine in answer to the Nazi invasion of Poland, and she remained in Lviv until her death. In 1951 she was named honored artist of the Ukrainian SSR and in 1952 was promoted to full professor at Lviv's Conservatory. Her status as a cultural icon in the Soviet Ukraine did not diminish after Ukrainian independence; Kruszelnicka's name is known today to every Ukrainian and Lviv's opera house is named after her. Her house in Lviv is now a museum devoted to her memory.
Actress Yelena Safonova plays Kruszelnicka to perfection, aided by a marked resemblance to the singer. She is supported by an excellent cast. The script by Valeriya Vrublevskaya is accurate and Oleg Fialko directs with flair. One obvious objection is that this movie should be spoken in Ukrainian not Russian (Ukrainian was Kruszelnicka's native language and the one she used in her family circle).
There seems to be no DVD Region 1 of this movie. It is possible (but not easy) to obtain VHS tapes. These have no subtitles thus you will need a willing Russian-speaking friend next to you to enjoy this film.