Feb. 4, 1908: Sharpless (Ottley Cranston) and Pinkerton (Vernon Stiles) find the body of Cio-Cio San (Phoebe Strakosch) in the Los Angeles premiere of “Madame Butterfly.”
One of the joys of research is following a thread wherever it leads. In this case, it’s the Los Angeles premiere of “Madame Butterfly.” It's difficult to imagine a time when "Butterfly" -- a staple of the operatic repertoire if not a warhorse -- was a new and largely unheard work accessible only through the score. Several Times stories from the period discussed whether “Butterfly” would surpass “La Boheme” and one writer dared to speculate that Richard Wagner would have approved.
I was particularly struck by The Times’ coverage of the 1908 premiere; enough to revisit the performance even though I wrote about it two years ago. There’s Harry Carr’s color story, which has as much about the stagehands and scenery as it does about the opera, then there’s Julian Johnson’s review. “Butterfly,” which was performed at the Mason Operahouse, was clearly one of the leading events of the musical (and social) season.
Feb. 3, 1908: Savage’s English Grand Opera Company presents “Madam Butterfly” at the Mason Operahouse.
Phoebe Strakosch sings the role of “Cho-Cho San.”
Feb. 24, 1910: The Lambardi Grand Opera Company presents “Madam Butterfly” at the Mason Operahouse.
Feb. 25, 1910: “Butterfly” is performed by the Lambardi Italian Opera Company. Cio-Cio San was sung by Marina Calvi; Giovanni Nadal was Pinkerton; and Angelo Antola was Sharpless.
Bonus facts: Phoebe Strakosch died in 1952 at the age of 84, 30 years after retiring from the stage, according to Billboard magazine. It’s unclear what became of Marina Calvi.