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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

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):