Metropolitan Opera 2017-18 Preview: From Farrar To Racette, the Met’s Famous ‘Madama Butterfly’ Interpreters

By David Salazar

“Madama Butterfly” is one of the most popular operas in the entire repertoire, which makes it no surprise that the Metropolitan Opera will bring back the work for its 2017-18 season. This year’s run kicks off on Nov. 2, 2017 and will be showcased six times in the fall before returning on Feb. 22 for another six performances.

In the lead roles will be Hui He, who has performed the opera three times at the Met in her career, and Ermonela Jaho, who has also dominated the opera around the world, in her first performances at the Met.

With 869 performances to date, the opera has been conquered by a plethora of great sopranos throughout history. Here are the sopranos that have dominated the opera at the Met since 1907.

Geraldine Farrar

With a whopping 139 performances (16 percent of all performances), Farrar absolutely dominated the role between 1907, when the opera was first sung at the Met, up until 1922, her final performances of the opera with the company. No one has had such a run of dominance in the role since.

Licia Albanese

Albanese took over the crown as the reigning Butterfly in the 1940s, singing the opera 72 times, the second most of any interpreter in Met history. Her first performance of the opera came on Feb. 9, 1940, her house debut, and her final one was on Nov. 26, 1965. And while her span of time was far greater than Farrar’s, she was not the undisputed Butterfly of her time. She actually shared the opera quite often with…

Dorothy Kirsten

Kirsten sang the opera 68 times at the Met, her first performance coming on Dec. 28, 1946, and her association with the role spanning all the way to June 22, 1974, 28 years.

Antonietta Stella

They also had to perform alongside Antonietta Stella, who first sang the role on Feb. 19, 1958, and performed it 26 times over the next two years. Her final performance in the opera came on March 24, 1960.

Renata Scotto

In the second half of the 20th century, more interpreters took turns as the famous geisha. You had Renata Tebaldi sing eight showcases, Martina Arroyo get eight performances, Pilar Lorengar and Lucine Amara get 13 each, and so on.

But even so, Renata Scotto became associated with the opera throughout the second half of the 1960s through 1980s, singing the opera 38 times in that span, her debut and farewell performances at the Met coming in the very same opera. The former was on Oct. 13, 1965, and the latter took place on Jan. 17, 1987.

Gilda Cruz-Romo

And while Scotto was the Butterfly of her time, she, like Albanese, shared the opera with Gilda Cruz-Romo, who sang it 31 times between 1970 and 1981.

Yoko Watanabe

As Scotto exited the picture, three sopranos became the go-to’s for the opera, starting with the Japanese soprano whose 25 performances of the role between 1986 and 1993 were the most of the time.

Diana Soviero

Diana Soviero entered the picture as Watanabe was leaving, singing her first “Butterfly” on Sept. 23, 1992, and performing the role 24 times through 1996.

Catherine Malfitano

In 1994, Catherine Malfitano took over as the leading Cio-Cio San of her time, singing it a total of 18 times at the Met all the way through 2001.

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs

The early parts of the 21st century saw a lot of different sopranos take turns in the opera, but no one really established a foothold until Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, who opened the current Anthony Minghella production and General Manager Peter Gelb’s tenure on Sept. 25, 2006. She would sing the role 14 times overall in 2006, her final performance coming on Feb. 27, 2009, the only time she took it on that season.

Patricia Racette

Racette is probably the Met’s 21st century Cio-Cio San, singing the opera 20 times, more than anyone this century and getting an HD transmission and subsequent DVD release.

She first sang the role in 2007 and her final showcase was in 2012. Racette recently announced that she was retiring “Butterfly” from her repertoire.

Kristine Opolais

The Latvian soprano has been a fixture at the Met in the role over the last few seasons, getting an HD transmission in 2015-16. She has sung 13 performances since 2014.