Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

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):