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

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Svetla Vassileva as Cio-Cio-San [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
24 Oct 2010

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

“One of the most beautiful sets I have ever seen,” crows San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley over the airwaves, “directed by Broadway legend Hal Prince.”

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Cio-Cio-San: Svetla Vassileva; Lt. B. F. Pinkerton: Stefano Secco; Suzuki: Daveda Karanas; Goro: Thomas Glenn; Sharpless: Quinn Kelsey; Prince Yamadori: Austin Kness; The Bonze: Christian Van Horn; Kate Pinkerton: Sara Gartland; Aunt: Ann Flandreau Hughes; Mother: Rachelle Perry; Cousin: Carole Schaffer; Uncle Yakuside: Christopher Jackson; Official Registrar: Jere Torkelsen; Imperial Commissioner: Bojan Knezevic; Trouble: Rebecca Chen. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Production: Harold Prince. Director: Jose Maria Condemi. Set Designer: Clarke Dunham. Costume Designer: Florence Klotz. Original Lighting Designer: Ken Billington. Lighting Designer: Christine Binder.

Above: Svetla Vassileva as Cio-Cio-San

All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

He is trying to sell twelve performances of Puccini’s masterpiece presumably to the unwashed hordes who flocked to to see Aida simulcast from the opera house onto the scoreboard of the local baseball stadium. The problem is once you have got them inside the War Memorial what do they see?

No doubt Hal Prince is a brilliant Broadway director. Soon after his opera exploits (Willie Stark in 1981 [more a Broadway musical than an opera], Madama Butterfly in 1982 and Turandot in 1983) he went on to direct Phantom of the Opera (1986), the longest running musical in history.

SecKelemail.gifStefano Secco as Lt. B.F. Pinkerton) and Quinn Kelsey as Sharpless

Yes, this is the Madama Butterfly he staged for Lyric Opera of Chicago. It caused a lot of excitement back in 1982, after all those theatrically savvy Broadway folks know how to put on a show. There was a national telecast so the production is well known, but back then the lighting seemed far darker so it was harder to see the Kabuki theater knock-off Koken spin the set, and it is harder yet to recall the staging itself after these 28 years.

In San Francisco just now those ninja-like Koken (lithe figures in black body stockings) convincingly simulated the massive efforts needed to turn the huge, fairytale, Las Vegas worthy love nest of Pinkerton and Butterfly. They were quite apparent, forcing the same question that arose back then — what does hyper-stylized Kabuki theater have to do with verismo (realistic) opera?

The answer is about as much as Broadway has to do with verismo opera. The play Madame Butterfly on which Puccini based his opera is by San Francisco’s own David Belasco. It is the American equivalent of théâtre guignol or French horror theater, a frequent Puccini muse. In Belasco’s Butterfly Cho-Cho-San’s horrific suicide is carefully prepared within grubby circumstances. It is reality best experienced, if you must, from a seat in a theater.

Broadway is typically fast and easy. There is lots of stimulation created by frequent scenic movement and lots of color. The story is direct and emotions are obvious. Thus in the Prince Butterfly the set is spun and spun, the colors are seductive and glittery. Butterfly boldly sheds her kimono in favor of American apparel. But the bright gold of her bustled Victorian dress belied three years of wear and the condition of extreme poverty required by the story. It did have requisite Broadway flash.

KarVasemail.gifDaveda Karanas as Suzuki and Svetla Vassileva as Cio-Cio-San

The Butterfly was the diminutive Svetla Vassileva, a veteran of the world’s big stages to be sure but also an artist of considerable depth, and one who is game for interesting contemporary productions. Her Butterfly is intrinsically Belasco’s geisha, physically and emotionally clumsy (after all she is fifteen years old), simple and very honest. She is not a geisha who makes it to Broadway.

Nevertheless the misplaced glitz of the production faded in her presence, leaving Mme. Vassileva alone on stage to carry Butterfly’s tragic burden, and that she did, to a degree. She is in fine voice — a young and healthy one — well schooled in verismo technique. She tirelessly delivered all the great scenes. The production betrayed her in its absence of reality, her lover seemed a confused kid who found himself in an opera production because he sings well. The balance of the casting showed blatant disregard for the needs of both Belasco and Broadway, and Puccini too wants heavier, Italianate voices. Even the genius of San Francisco Opera’s quixotic conductor Nicola Luisotti could not save the day, though he tried with a breathtaking coda.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out the video excerpt on the San Francisco Opera website.

Michael Milenski

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):