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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

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):