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 Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Oct 2015

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

A review by Robert Hugill

Above

 

The programme book for Kirsten Harms' production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly was all in Swedish, except a synopsis in English, but we were at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm after all. So I was unable to read the articles by Harms and her designer Herbert Murauer so when attending the production at the Opera House (Operan), I had to rely simply on eyes and ears to report on their intentions. I saw the performance on 16 October 2015 (the production was new in November 2014), sung in Italian, with Asmik Grigorian (a Lithuanian soprano who was the Butterfly at the production's premiere), Jonas Degerfeldt (a member of the Royal Swedish Opera's ensemble) as Pinkerton, Karl-Magnus Fredriksson as Sharpless, Susann Vegh as Suzuki and Daniel Ralphsson as Goro. The Korean conductor Eunsun Kim conducted, she is familiar to English audiences following her debut conducting Die Fledermaus at English National Opera.

Kim and the orchestra launched into a wonderfully dramatic and involving account of the prelude and the curtain raised on Herbert Murauer's set, a 1950's/60's modern house with a wall of glass at the back, a huge Japanese print filling the wall stage left, and Japanese scrolls hanging from the ceiling. Furniture was Danish Modern style, and in one of the arm-chairs lounged Karl-Magnus Fredrickson's Pinkerton, whilst in a gantry above his colleagues from his ship mustered. Goro (Daniel Ralphsson) appeared from a staircase leading down to lower levels. Hyper active and dressed in Western, rather psychedelic colours, Goro had brought dress clothes for Pinkerton and harried him to dress, all the whilst preparing the drinks for the wedding. We saw two apparent 'geishas' until we realised that these were men!

It was not going to be a traditional Madame Butterfly. Harms had chosen to set the piece in Japan in the 1950's/60's in the context of a society in change. Butterfly and her relatives are Western assimilated, with costumes which mixed Western style with Japanese references. But still there are cultural differences and these provoke a more violent than usual reaction with the entry of the Bonze (Kristian Flor), here more of a fundamentalist than a quiet priest, and with four violent kung-fu henchmen who beat everyone up. The love duet arises out of this violence, and during part two it is clear that Butterfly is in some way damaged, post-stress disorder perhaps has left her mentally fragile and the second half is the depiction of her gradual decline. The opera was given in the correct version with no break at the humming chorus, and Butterfly and her friend Suzuki (Suzann Vegh) were camped out in the ruins of the grand modernist house. The climax, when it came was dramatic as Butterfly committed suicide in full view of Pinkerton who, calling from the balcony, was able to see all but not reach her.

I have to confess that in performances of Madama Butterfly there comes a point in part two when I start to hanker for the more elegant conciseness of La Boheme, but in this performance thanks to the sheer beauty and intensity of Asmik Grigorian's Butterfly and Eunsum Kim's conducting, this moment never appeared. Part two was one sustained piece of gradually building intense drama with a shattering climax. That we had moved the setting forward 50 years meant that whilst the Japanese/Western divide was still the engine of the drama, the lack of exotic Japonaiserie meant that the singers could concentrate on the drama rather than evoking Japan with carefully composed gestures.

It helped that Asmik Grigorian was such a mesmerising and musical Butterfly. Vocally she sounds somewhat like Victoria de los Angeles, with richly elegant lyric tones and that slight, effecting edge to the voice. She had enough power in reserve so that at Piccolo idol, when Butterfly turns into Tosca (or perhaps more appropriately, Liu turns into Turandot) Grigorian showed she had the right amount of power without pushing her voice beyond the limit. Butterfly is  tricky role, and many of the singers who performed it in Puccini's lifetime were dramatic ones, but you still need to be able to be fluidly fluent and convincingly girlish too. Grigorian gave a performance of great musicality and I suspect that it would be lovely to listen to, there was little in the way of pushing and stretching the vocal line. She combined this with a sense of the intensity of Butterfly's decline into near dementia.

Jonas Degerfeldt performance as Pinkerton had a robust, rough-hewn quality to it, and whilst he may not have been the most ingratiating, Italianate Pinkerton vocally, he had the admirable virtue of consistency. His voice went right to the top, with no forcing and he was as vigorous at the closing as at the opening. The rough edged feel worked well with the character, this was a Pinkerton who had made himself at home in Japan but had no qualms about abandoning all when he returned home. Though the violence of the Bonze's attack at the end of Act One, and Pinkerton's failure to protect Butterfly made you wonder whether Harms was suggesting other deeper issues, perhaps an inability to accept that he had failed to protect led to his need to abandon. Degerfeldt had the strength of personality to bring off the tricky ending, where we get very little time with the returned Pinkerton.

Karl-Magnus Fredriksson brought a soft-grained quality to his performance as Sharpless. A relatively young man, this Sharpless was personable and sympathetic, but completely unable to act when he needed to. The letter scene was profoundly poignant, with the combination of Fredriksson's sympathetic warm baritone and the intensity of Grigorian's response.

In this version, Suzuki is Butterfly's friend rather than servant, and in part two she is the only friend left, bringing Butterfly food and supporting her. This slight revision gave Susann Vegh as Suzuki the ability to be a strong friend rather than a surly servant, and her performance had great sympathy and strength of character. She made a great impression in the role, both musically and dramatically and it would be interesting to hear her in something larger.

Daniel Ralphsson was brilliant as the hyperactive, self-serving Goro, full of bits of business but never quite pulling focus from the main action. He is a relatively young man and Ralphsson brought a nice flexibility to the part. Magnus Kyle was the much put-upon Yamadori, far older than Butterfly and rather world-weary for all his grand robe. The remaining characters, all small but important, were well taken with Eva Sahlin as Kate Pinkerton, IIan Power as Yakuside, Henrik Hugo as the Notary, Hakan Ekenas as the Commissioner and Anna Norrby as Butterfly's mother. Kristin Leoson was brilliant as the clearly traumatised child, Sorrow, who barely lets anyone touch him and is completely filthy.

Harms and her designer Herbert Murauer had one or two visual coups. For Butterfly's entrance, which is to emerge from the floor via the staircase going downstairs, she was carrying a parasol but it was covered in white muslin as a veil giving an unforgettable visual image. This was re-iterated during the opening of the scene after the humming chorus, when in the long orchestral introduction the scene was repeated but this time with a naked dancer as Butterfly and the veil was red. Eight Pinkertons appeared and eventually followed her into the distance up stage. Another innovation was the entertainment during the wedding. Whilst the guests sat down and tucked into their bento boxes, two women dressed as sexy sailors danced with the two men dressed as geishas.

That Kristen Harms production made such a strong impression is partly due to the finely engrossing performances from the cast, with Eunsun Kim getting great support from the orchestra. This meant that the shattering ending came as the real climax. Asmik Grigorian was certainly the focus and the star, but she was strongly partnered by the rest of the cast so that it did feel like a good ensemble production. I would gladly encounter this staging again, and certainly hope to see Asmik Grigorian in other roles.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

Butterfly: Asmik Grigorian, Pinkerton: Jonas Degerfeldt, Sharpless: Karl-Magnus Fredriksson, Suzuki: Susann Vegh, Goro: Daniel Ralphsson, Kate Pinkerton: Eva Sahlin, Yakuside: IIan Power, Notary: Henrik Hugo, Commissioner: Hakan Ekenas, Butterfly’s mother; Anna Norrby, Sorrow: Kristin Leoson, Bonze: Kristian Flor
Director: Kirsten Harms, Designer: Herbert Murauer. Conductor: Eunsun Kim. Royal Swedish Opera, Opera House, Stockholm. October 16 2015.

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):