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 Performances

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.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Yunah Lee (Cio-Cio-San). [Photo by Mark Kiryluk courtesy of Central City Opera]
07 Jul 2010

Central City stages Butterfly with a bite

CENTRAL CITY — No matter how much verismo you heap onto Madama Butterfly, the opera — the favorite of American companies — remains a threadbare — if tragic — tale of a love that failed.

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Butterfly: Yunah Lee; Pinkerton: Chad Shelton; Suzuki: Mika Shigamatsu; Sharpless: Grant Youngblood. Director: Catherine Malfitano. Conductor: Matthew Halls.

Above: Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San

All photos by Mark Kiryluk courtesy of Central City Opera

 

Nonetheless, you get stuck on the flypaper of Puccini’s sometimes saccharine score, tear up and go home thinking you’ve experienced Great Art. That — happily — ended locally in 2005 when veteran soprano Catherine Malfitano came to Central City to direct a Butterfly with a bite.

The production returned to the historic CCO house on Saturday, and it’s even more brilliant than it was five years ago. Malfitano has focused her experienced attention on two aspects of the opera to achieve this. She places major emphasis on the suicide of Butterfly’s father. Although details are not given, it was an act necessary to preserve his honor — and that of his family. Malfitano adds the late non-singing father to Puccini’s cast. White-clad with long beard, he disembowels himself on stage before the music begins.

CCOSharplessPinkerton.gifGrant Youngblood as Sharpless and Chad Shelton as Pinkerton

Okay, it gives things away, but everyone knows the end anyhow. The father returns throughout the staging to underscore the inevitability of his daughters death. This brings a depth to the score — “an inexorable feeling of fate,” says the director — that it otherwise has never had. Malfitano’s second stroke of genius comes with the love duet that ends Act One. It’s powerful music that easily stands on its own; in this staging, however, Pinkerton, the American Navy man of questionable character, and the still-innocent Butterfly slowly undress each other. It might sound like strip-tease, but it isn’t. It’s done with impeccable taste, mesmerizing slowness and controlled delicacy until the two are silhouetted in embrace against an orange moon. Like a nerve laid bare, this brings the intense sexual undercurrent of the music to the surface, where it stays for the remainder of the staging. Puccini has never had it so good!

To bring life to Malfitano’s ideas, the CCO has assembled an ideal cast and production team. Yunah Lee has made Butterfly her signature role around the world, and Mika Shigematsu is equally celebrated as servant-companion Suzuki. Obviously, you don’t have to be Asian to sing these roles, but it adds to illusion. (And it avoids the excesses of make-up and pathetic pussy-footing of Western singers who try thus to bring “reality” to the 1904 opera.) In addition to a powerful and expressive voice Lee identifies totally with Butterfly, and Shigematsu’s warm mezzo leaves one sitting back just to listen.

CCOPinkertonButterflyWeddin.gifChad Shelton as Pinkerton and Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San

Chad Shelton remains a youthful tenor with a voice of power and passion that downplays the cad Pinkerton is in deserting his bride. Baritone Grant Youngblood, a CCO old-timer, plays an American consul tormented by the wrong that he must nonetheless endorse.

Dany Lyne’s designs and costumes are impressively simple, while retaining hints of the setting in Japan. Near-miraculous is the conducting of Matthew Halls, the young British master of the Baroque who came to Colorado a year ago to conduct Handel’s Rinaldo. Halls asked to be on the podium for Puccini, and one hears why. He understands both story and music and has the CCO pit band playing as if it were the Vienna Philharmonic.

Andrew Altaenbach prepared the chorus of CCO young artists that — effectively — comes to the rear of the stage in blue masks to sing the “Humming” Chorus that accompanies Butterfly’s nocturnal vigil. (Usually the chorus sings off stage.) In the orchestral interlude that follows Halls elevates Puccini to Beethoven’s level as a master of orchestral composition.

CCOPinkertonGoroSuzuki.gifChad Shelton as Pinkerton, Joseph Gaines as Goro and Mika Shigematsu as Suzuki

This is — in sum — is Puccini staged by a troupe of masters who bring new insight — and emotion — to the overworked score. Others exaggerate tricks and trivia to rescue Butterfly from its own popularity. Malfitano knows it’s all there in the music and stages the opera with maximum simplicity — and impact. There may never be another Butterfly like it.

Madama Butterfly plays at Central City Opera through August 9. For information, call 303-292-6700 or www.centralcityopera.org.

Wes Blomster

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):