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

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Amanda Echalaz as Butterfly [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
07 Nov 2013

Madama Butterfly, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current new production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, an effort shared with Houston Grand Opera and the Grand Théâtre de Genève, tends to emphasize emotional involvements against a backdrop of spare sets.

Madama Butterfly, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Amanda Echalaz as Butterfly

Photos by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

This exposure of the individual characters, their hopes and conflicts, requires that the performers communicate musically in the midst of shifting narrative turns and a gamut of anguished feelings. The original production was directed by Michael Grandage with sets and costumes by Christopher Oram; for Chicago the production is directed by Louisa Muller. Cio-Cio-San / Butterfly and Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton are sung by Amanda Echalaz and James Valenti, both making house debuts. Butterfly’s attendant Suzuki is performed by Maryann McCormick and the American Consul Sharpless by Christopher Purves, the latter also appearing here for the first time. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by Marco Armiliato, who makes his Chicago Lyric conducting debut with these performances.

At the start of Act One the Japanese marriage broker Goro, sung by David Cangelosi, and Pinkerton discuss business matters relating to the house which the protagonist has rented for his current relationship with Cio-Cio-San. When describing both the household members in the service of the bride, and guests who will attend the ceremony with Pinkerton, Cangelosi’s Goro is masterfully acted and sung with obsequious gestures and with a good sense of idiomatic delivery. Mr. Valenti’s Pinkerton seems appropriately distracted when hearing Goro’s recitation of domestic details. Valenti’s facial expression remained unchanged during this scene and the following exchange with Sharpless who enters in a breathless rush to witness on site Pinkerton’s plans. Valenti’s lyrical spirit emerges when he sings “Dovunque al mondo’ (“Everywhere in the world”) in his soliloquy to Sharpless on the wandering and risk-taking Yankee sailor. It is surely this attempt to stay in character, seeking pleasure until he settles someday with a proper “sposa americana,” that explains Valenti’s grinning stage demeanor and understated vocal line. At times both he and Purves’s Sharpless were unfortunately challenged in their vocal projection by overly vigorous orchestral volume.

As Cio-Cio-San enters with her companions, the excitedness of the young women is appreciated by their host. Despite her own demure behavior vis-à-vis Pinkerton this Butterfly is skilled at giving orders to her retinue of serving companions. Ms. Echalaz sings with secure pitch, at first investing her line with a noticeable amount of vibrato as a means to expressing her mix of ardor and nervous expectation. Once her character feels more comfortable in this conjugal setting, to which she assigns blind faith, Echalaz varies the expression of vocal color. She describes her few treasured possessions with a nonchalant tone for the pot of rouge, yet her description of the “cosa sacra” (“sacred possession”) — the knife of her father’s suicide — is pronounced with pure, unwavering focus. Once the Bonze, uncle of Cio-Cio-San and a Buddhist priest, enters and curses her resolve, the ultimate societal and personal isolation of the young woman has begun. As the Bonze, David Govertsen delivered an appropriately menacing and lyrically convincing impression, while also competing with an unyielding orchestral force. The departure of authorities and extended family leave the protagonists alone for perhaps their most celebrated expressive music in Puccini’s score. Valenti and Echalaz sang this duet touchingly from his rising vocal line on “Viene la sera” (“The night approaches”) to Butterfly’s naïve pronouncements “Ah dolce notte! quante stelle!” (“Oh, beautiful night! So many stars!”). At times during this first and the following acts the voices seemed muffled as though the set, constructed of graduated panels, were absorbing some of the performers’ vocal projection.

MADAMA_BUTTERFLY_DBR_0550.gifAmanda Echalaz as Butterfly and James Valenti as Pinkerton

Act Two of Madama Butterfly begins as an extended duet for Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki, the latter despairing over the failure of Pinkerton to return within three years. Ms. McCormick’s Suzuki featured some of the most expressive dramatic singing of this performance, as she released rich, dark pitches in her warnings of their precarious financial household. In reply Cio-Cio-San’s famous aria “Un bel di” (“One fine day”), assuring her faith in Pinkerton’s return, was sung with careful attention to top notes alternating with lines sung piano for their introspective emphasis. Sharpless interrupts this intimate scene and tries repeatedly to communicate the contents of Pinkerton’s letter. Purves’s Counsul showed the ideal mix of anguish and frustration in both acting and singing as he tries to broach the topic with Butterfly. Once the cannon-shot is sounded, Butterfly is again lost in her world of determined faith: she and her child, with Suzuki joining in support, scatter flower petals to signal their welcome of Pinkerton.

The “Humming Chorus” performed between Acts Two and Three was subtly audible as the central structure of the stage revolved. In the final scenes Echalaz’s descent into renunciation of her life and child was as complete as her earlier trajectory of hope. Pinkerton’s brief appearance and aria, “Addio, fiorito asil,” (“Farewell, flowery refuge”) was here sung by Valenti with the ability to integrate this vocal piece into the dramatic flow. His brief lyrical outburst simply added in this production to the tragedy as Madam Butterfly proceeds to the decision that she realizes is now inevitable.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for cast and production information.

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):