Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

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):