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

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

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.

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):