Solomiya Krushelnytska: the victorious return of Butterfly

“Before Manon, before Bohème and Tosca, I felt uneasy and all those operas turned out to be triumphs. And this time I felt so calm!”

The premiere of Madama Butterfly in February 1904 didn’t turn out as Puccini expected. Shouts, hisses and whistles received his work in one of the most stormy evenings at the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. The stellar cast starring soprano Rosina Storchio and tenor Giovanni Zenatello and Maestro Campanini’s baton make the fiasco harder to explain. Puccini described Butterfly in this way:

“I am aware of having written the most modern of my operas. […] All of it is sincere. I can also explain to myself that no one would rebel against such hostility. Because Butterfly is an opera of suggestion. That suggestion broken, the charm stops. And the uproar, the clamor, shattered that limpid and sweet atmosphere of little painful dream that could show the figures and the passions alive.”

With the pride of an idol they have tried to overthrow, Puccini writes to his brother-in-law, Maximo de Carlo:

“Dear Maximo: stay calm, I am. The ignoble gang tortured me but did not scared me. Butterfly will live her own thriving life; and that resurrection will happen very soon, you will see!”

His confidence found full confirmation when only three months later the new version of the opera was performed at the Teatro Grande in Brescia. Same tenor, same baton, but a different Butterfly: Solomiya Krushelnytska, the great Ukrainian soprano who would replace Rosina Storchio. It was an overwhelming success. Madama Butterfly was presented for the first time in three acts —though it’s not exactly the one we know today since Puccini continued transforming the work.

The maestro and the singers were asked for more than seven curtain calls after the first act and received an ovation from an audience that included the presence of the composer Arrigo Boito. Rosina Storchio had her compensation in the successful Latin American premiere at the Teatro de la Opera in Buenos Aires, conducted by maestro Toscanini.

Solomiya Krushelnytska, the triumphant Butterfly, was a great singer with an acting talent praised by the chroniclers of his time. Born in a noble family in Ukraine in 1872, she showed great interest in singing since she was a child. In her youth, she decided to study in the Conservatoire of Leopolis and debuted in 1893 in the Opera and Ballet Theater of Leopolis, today named after her. On the advice of the soprano Gema Bellincioni, she traveled to Milan where she developed her vocal studies with Fausta Crespi. Krushelnytska had until then been educated as a mezzo-soprano and thanks to Crespi she made the transition to her real soprano register. In order to pay for her studies in Milan she traveled regularly to Leopolis to sing in the theater while she was in the final stage of her education. Six hours a day studying roles, languages, scene and, of course, vocalizations, made her a cultured singer and musician. When she was not studying, she read and visited the theater and the museums. It is not surprising that such a vocal and stage prodigy arose from such a rigorous education.

Krushelnytska gained popularity throughout Europe with her performances and tours, and though at the time of Butterfly’s premiere she was already a renowned singer —in 1898 she sang Aida at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg alongside Enrico Caruso— this rescue of a unfortunate role was worth much of her later celebrity. Conducted by Toscanini, she made her debut in the role of Salome in La Scala in 1906, where, to the audience and critics astonishment, she performed the dance of the seven veils. In 1909 she created the role of Electra for the premiere at La Scala, becoming the first great soprano to undertake the two roles. Richard Strauss himself stated that Krushelnytska’s performance in both parts was “perfect.”

No less than 63 roles corresponding to 61 operas make up her repertoire, from Madama Butterfly and La bohème, to Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin and Brunilda in Die Walküre, Aida, Leonora in La Forza del Destino and Mefistofele, La Gioconda, Adriana Lecouvreur, Louise, The Lady of Spades and Eugene Oneguin. In the 1920s, she retired from the opera stage and engaged in concert tours. She returned home after the death of her husband. Confined in her country by World War II, taught at the conservatoire, where she had studied, until her death in 1952.


Recordings

Solomiya Krushelnytska
Ho jo to ho!
Die Walküre
Richard Wagner

Solomiya Krushelnytska
Pace, pace mio Dio
La forza del destino
Giuseppe Verdi

Solomiya Krushelnytska
Un bel dì vedremo
Madama Butterfly
Giacomo Puccini

Solomiya Krushelnytska
Solveig’s Song
Peer Gynt
Edvard Grieg


Sources