Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Shu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio-San [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]
29 Mar 2010

Madama Butterfly, NYCO

Once again, as in L’Etoile, Mark Lamos’s staging and Robert Wierzel’s lighting nearly steal the show in the City Opera’s revival of Madama Butterfly.

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Cio-Cio-San: Shu-Ying Li; Suzuki: Nina Yoshida Nelsen; Pinkerton: Steven Harrison; Sharpless: Quinn Kelsey; Goro: Jeffrey Halili; Sorrow: Eddie Schweighardt. Production by Mark Lamos. New York City Opera chorus and orchestra conducted by George Manahan. Performance of March 25.

Above: Shu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio-San

All photos by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera

 

It says a great deal in her favor that in her sensitive and passionate account of the title role, Shu-Ying Li holds her own against such competition. For example, a great circle dominates the backdrop — red against white for the rising sun or the Japanese flag as the opera opens, turning black against red when the Bonze denounces his errant niece for renouncing her ancestral gods, then white against serene blue for moonlight during the great duet that closes the act.

2010Butterfly0024.pngQuinn Kelsey as Sharpless, Eddie Schweighardt as Sorrow and Shu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio San

There are few props on the wide, bare stage, and therefore those we see possess greater significance. The tiny ancestral gods that Pinkerton scorns as “dolls” are placed stage center, as on an altar, during later acts of the story — first for Butterfly to ignore them, preferring the wide-awake American god, then for her to atone before them by hara-kiri when she has lost honor, child and everything else. A fleet of tiny red “warships” floats like a flock of birds above the stage at curtain-rise — to be echoed in Act II by the toy ship Sorrow plays with. A telescope is not merely functional, permitting Butterfly to stare at the empty harbor of Nagasaki, but also symbolizes her undying hopes.

The traditional screen behind which the heroine kills herself does not appear — instead she shows her gumption (and forfeits a pathos playwright David Belasco and composer Puccini both wished to claim) by turning about to slash her throat in her faithless lover’s face, precisely as Pinkerton enters and after his desperate, perhaps repentant cries of “Butterfly!” This confrontational death is an excess. Butterfly, as Belasco and Puccini conceived her, may be a convenient myth, a construction of the guilty Western colonialist conscience, but that is how they created her; to turn her final act into an expression of vendetta, a spitting in the face of her oppressor — the man she has entirely loved hitherto — seems an intrusive modern afterthought. We may have been patronizing when we took Cio-Cio-San to our hearts — but this resentful figure, this image of hate, will not win our hearts at all.

2010Butterfly0005.pngShu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio San and Steven Harrison as B.F. Pinkerton

Shu-Ying Li has a large and genuine Puccini soprano of great beauty, but there is a certain unsteadiness until it warms up. Her entrance was not luminous, but the duet was, and many other soaring phrases as well. Her Cio-Cio-San was a complete portrait, each line part of the whole, not the collection of pretty excerpts it can become. She is a tall woman and does not move like a small one, and in her enormous wedding kimono she all but dwarfs her Pinkerton, but the robe is soon removed — it is present, hanging on rods, for the rest of the opera, a visible symbol of her past — and in slimmer robes she manages to appear becomingly frail.

2010Butterfly0039.pngJessica Klein as Kate Pinkerton, Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Suzuki, Quinn Kelsey as Sharpless, and Shu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio San

Broad-shouldered Steven Harrison was, like most modern Pinkertons, cast in the shade by his Butterfly. The role may be thankless, an exemplary cad, but he should be a robust cad and Harrison sounded provincial. Nina Yoshida Nelsen sang an effective Suzuki, especially impressive in the Flower Duet and the penultimate trio. Quinn Kelsey’s Sharpless possessed — not only because of his size — a real presence, so that one accepted the judgments of this involved, sympathetic observer as more than the official boilerplate they can seem. Little Eddie Schweighardt made one of the liveliest Troubles I’ve seen, whacking Jeffrey Halili’s Goro with a fan and chasing about the stage with his toy boat.

George Manahan drew a precise and lustrous account of the score from his orchestra, full of Italian Wagnerism in the way melodies were foreshadowed, then foregrounded, then fragrantly recollected to remind us of joys past or hint at doom to come.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):