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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Brandon Jovanovich as Pinkerton and Oksana Dyka as Cio-Cio-San [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]
28 Nov 2012

Madame Butterfly, LA Opera

A beautiful, blingless Butterfly. How else to describe the pleasures of four glorious voices singing Puccini’s heart breaking, passionate melodies without igniting romantic sparks?

Madame Butterfly, LA

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Brandon Jovanovich as Pinkerton and Oksana Dyka as Cio-Cio-San

Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

 

And strangely, though the opening night of the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Puccini’s popular work, was just such a performance, I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Then I got home and wondered why.

The libretto of Madame Butterfly by Luigi Silica and Giuseppe Giacosa (the opera premiered in 1904) did not begin life as a sexy story. Its origin is said to lie in the true story of a Japanese woman, named Tsuru Yamamura, who in the previous century had a son by an Englishman, and who attempted suicide when he abandoned her.

MdB2179.gifOksana Dyka as Cio-Cio-San and Milena Kitic as Suzuki

Interest in Japan, newly opened to the West, was international in those years. In 1887 French author, Pierre Loti, a retired Naval officer’s published a fictional memoir of a Geisha dedicated to “Madame la Duchesse de Richelieu.” Loti’s Geisha, Madame Chrysanthème, marries a Caucasian and is depicted, after his departure, counting the money she received from him, as she awaits a new husband. In 1898 American writer, John Luther Long, created a highly romanticized and tragic tale of a Geisha he called Cio-Cio San. “Chou” is the American transliteration of the word meaning Butterfly in Japanese. The young girl, urged on by her American Naval officer husband, gives up her family and religion to take on her role as an American wife. When her husband returns years later with a true American wife, Butterfly kills herself with her father’s sword. David Belasco’s play, based on Long’s piece and famously cited as the inspiration for Puccini’s opera, consists of only one act — at it’s premiere its companion piece was a farce. It does not contain a love scene, but opens just at the moment Pinkerton is about to return. Belasco enhanced the theatrical heartbreak of Long’s story by staging Cio-Cio San’s vigil for Pinkerton with not a word spoken on stage as lighting shifted from day to night and back to day. And he added Pinkerton’s dramatic appearance after Cio-Cio San’s death.

The story of the abandoned Geisha appeared in world literature at a time when verismo was fading from the Italian operatic scene (Puccini’s next heroine was gun-toting Minnie) but realism was still a factor in American writing. It was a time when playwrights and novelists writing about foreigners and regional Americans were turning out dialogue in ill transliterated dialects. We, in 2012, need to be grateful not only to Puccini for setting Butterfly’s story to his exotic score, but to his librettists, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica for the poetic words they wrote for her. One cannot in this day and age read the pidgin English that both Long and Belasco put into Butterfly’s mouth without cringing.

Although this production of Madame Butterfly is new to Los Angeles, it originated in San Francisco. The sets consist primarily of sliding shoji screens moved about by what I assume were inconspicuously attired stage hands. As one would expect there are few furnishings — certainly no chairs, the whole, imparting a quiet, uncluttered look. Unfortunately, however, just before the love duet, the center screens part to show an American double bed with thick iron bars for its footboard and headboard. I don’t know what it was supposed to add to the scene. All it added for me was jarring ugliness.

MdB3164.gifOksana Dyka as Cio-Cio-San, with Patrick Lucaric as her child

Soprano Oksana Dyka, who made her company debut last year year as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, held back her large voice in the early moments of the first act as the shy Butterfly, but let it soar thereafter in Puccini’s long melodic lines. However, the subtleties of the young girl’s fears and desires eluded her in the love scene. And whether it was poor direction, or some momentary slip, her suicide was poorly staged. Brandon Jovanovich, just returned from singing Lohengrin in San Francisco, was as usual a lithe, handsome Pinkerton, and sang with bright clear sound. Bass baritone Eric Owens, luxury casting as the American consul, Sharpless, who warns Pinkerton of the heartbreak he was likely to cause with this temporary liaison, appeared at times to be emotionally distant from Butterfly. I wondered whether it was a deliberate approach to playing Sharpless, or perhaps the effect of singing so many exciting Alberichs. Milena Kitic, an unusually clear voiced mezzo, was Suzuki, Cio-Cio San’s maidservant. I have never seen as angry a Bonze — that is, Cio-Cio San’s uncle, who accuses her of abandoning her people and her religion in marrying Pinkerton — as was Stefan Szkafarowsky. One had the feeling this singer had been waiting in the wings all evening for his chance to explode on the audience. Rodell Rosel pranced about and sang well as Goro, who brokered both the marriage and the house for Pinkerton. Museop Kim, a singer I enjoyed in the company’s La Bohème last year, as Yamadori, and D’Ana Lombard as Kate, Pinkerton’s American wife, did well in their brief parts.

Madame Butterfly, for which Puccini spent months studying with Japanese musicians, and which incorporates Japanese harmonies and folk melodies, is nevertheless one of his most accessible scores. From first note to last, it is essentially love music — music that tells over and over about love and longing. In this performance the Los Angeles Opera orchestra under its resident conductor Grant Gershon, supplied passion, intriguing orchestral support and the sparkle that sometimes seemed lacking on stage.

Yes, there were distractions and flaws: that gross “American” bed in a serene Japanese setting, not much sexual tension as Pinkerton pleads with his new wife to join him in it, and an ill thought out ending in which Butterfly hears Pinkerton call her name before stabbing herself and nevertheless, proceeds to do it. Why? For the silly childish thought,“Some day you’ll find me dead and you’ll be sorry”?

Yet I had enjoyed the performance. And now I know why — because whatever flaws there may have been in this production, whatever it may have lacked in sparkle, it was a performance filled with lyricism in which orchestra and voices made us aware of Puccini’s poignant affection for each of his characters — and because Puccini’s opera is not about sparks or sex. It’s about the original, sad story of Tsuru Yamamura, a story as old as our world, in which nations and people still do not view each other as equals. Madame Butterfly is an opera about the exploitation by a man of a dependent woman’s freely and fully given love and its subsequent heartbreak. And this, the Los Angeles Opera conveyed fully.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and Production

Cio-Cio San: Oksana Dyka; B.F. Pinkerton:Brandon Jovanich; Suzuki:Milena Kitic; Sharpless: Eric Owen; Goro:Rodell Rosel; The Bonze: Stefan Szkafrowsky; Prince Yamadori:Museop Kim; Kate Pinkerton: D’Ana Lombard. Conductor: Grant Gershon. Director: Ron Daniels. Scenery and Costume Designer: Michael Yeargan. Lighting Designer:Stephen Strawbridge.

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):