Christmas is almost here and wherever you go you will stumble upon decorative lights, trees and Santas. People visiting Milan, though, will discover that there's not just a Christmas frenzy in the air, but an opera mania, inspired by Madama Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini's opera that opened the season at La Scala on Tuesday evening.
This new staging with orchestra conductor Riccardo Chailly, director Alvis Hermanis, sets by Alvis Hermanis and Leila Fteita and costumes by Kristine Jurjāne, features Maria José Siri as Madama Butterfly, Annalisa Stroppa as Suzuki and Bryan Hymel as F.B. Pinkerton among the others.
The new staging allows people to rediscover Puccini's work in a bold new version that echoes in some ways the 1951 edition of the opera.
The costumes are maybe less elaborate than the ones seen in previous representations of the opera, but they look all the same fantastic, especially in the most crowded scenes and when matched with the monumental wigs, since they create visually striking effects.
To celebrate the return of Madama Butterfly to La Scala, a series of events has been organized all over the city, including music, food lectures and children's workshops. La Rinascente dedicated for example to the opera eight windows designed by the director Alvis Hermanis.
But the most interesting event for costume and fashion designers, artists and illustrators, remains the exhibition "Madama Butterfly: l'Oriente ritrovato" (Madama Butterfly: The Orient Rediscovered, until 18th February) at the museum of the Teatro della Scala (Via Filodrammatici 2, Milan).
Curated by Vittoria Crespi Morbio in collaboration with the Archivio Storico Ricordi (Ricordi Historical Archive) and the archive of the Scala Theatre, the event retraces the history of Puccini's opera from its first staging in 1904.
This first representation was particularly unlucky and hotly contested, as Puccini was probably a victim of his enemies, even though the audience was also surprised at the shocking themes of the opera.
The sets by Carlo Songa and Vittorio Rota didn't help as they corrupted Japan, introducing a generic vision of the Orient populated with Gallé's vases and with Western pieces of furniture such as a rocking chair.
This first section of the exhibition includes sketches of the costumes by Giuseppe Palanti with a kimono featuring a butterfly motif and some decorative prints of a red rope, a very efficient idea to symbolise dripping blood. This part also features a poster and several illustrations by painter and set designer Leopoldo Metlicovitz.
The 1925 performance was a striking one and it is represented here by rare bold and colourful kimonos by Caramba that show his fantastic imagination.
Costume-wise the 1951 representation was probably the most poetic: it featured indeed handpainted kimonos and costumes designed by Paris-based artist Tsuguharu Foujita.
The painter created for Cio Cio San a wardrobe inspired by his own background, but the best things about it were the hidden details that he scattered here and there in the costumes, and that visitors will be able to discover through his illustrations.
The fourth staging took place in Milan in 1985 with director Keita Asari, sets by Ichiro Takada and costumes by Hanae Mori and - like the current staging of the opera - it was very much inspired by traditional Japanese theatre.
The exhibition at the Teatro alla Scala features both costumes and sketches by Hanae Mori: the designer employed bright and sharp contrasts of colours, opting for a violet kimono with white butterflies for the main character and a monumental emerald kimono for the Imperial Commissioner.
Following the Japanese tradition and Foujita's costumes, Mori also created beautiful drawings for the lining of some of the kimono jackets for Madama Butterfly's relatives.
Visitors looking for an unusual way to (re)discover Giacomo Puccini's life and works in a fun way, should check out instead the event "Un fil di fumetto", at WOW Spazio Fumetto (viale Campania 12, Milan; until 8th January 2017).
The illustrations and comics dedicated to Puccini on display here include parodies featuring Donald Duck, delicate illustrations such as Achille Beltrame's for La Domenica del Corriere (for the 1904 staging of the opera) or Sergio Toppi and a drawing by Milo Manara who created for this exhibition a sensual Madama Butterfly moving from the sketches at the Scala archives.
Highly recommended to artists, illustrators, costume and fashion designers (Madama Butterfly has reappeared in fashion collections throughout the decades...), the opera and these extracurricular activities and events seem to have generated in the last few weeks a sort of local trend in Milan.
It is encouraging to see that opera has found new ways to reach out to a younger audience and, hopefully, this new staging will keep on prompting more artists to create unique pieces inspired by Madama Butterfly.