Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



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

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):