Madama Butterfly – Opera in two acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica after David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly, based on John Luther Long’s short story after Pierre Loti’s tale Madame Chrysanthéme [sung in Italian with Met Titles by Christopher Bergen]
Pinkerton – Roberto Aronica
Goro – Greg Fedderly
Suzuki – Maria Zifchak
US Consul Sharpless – Dwayne Croft
Cio-Cio-San [Madama Butterfly] – Patricia Racette
Cousin – Laura Fries
Mother – Linday Mays
Uncle Yakuside – Stephen Paynter
Aunt – Jean Braham
Imperial Commissioner – David Crawford
The Registrar – Christian Jeong
The Bonze, Cio-Cio-San’s uncle – Keith Miller
Yamadori – David Won
Kate Pinkerton – Edyta Kulczak
Cio-Cio-San’s child – Kevin Augustine, Tom Lee, Marc Petrosino
Hsin Ping Chang & James Graber (dancers)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Anthony Minghella – Production
Carolyn Choa – Director & Choreographer
Michael Levine – Set Designer
Han Feng – Costume Designer
Peter Mumford – Lighting Designer
Blind Summit Theatre [Mark Down & Nick Barnes] – Puppetry
Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler
Reviewed: 8 November, 2008
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City
The role of Madama Butterfly is one of the most exacting in the soprano repertory. Not only does it require a singer of commanding vocal dexterity and nuance, but also one who can effortlessly convey through acting the most conflicted inner emotions, convincingly morphing from periods of painful anguish to those of scintillating ecstasy, as when in the Act Two aria ‘Ah! M’ha scordata?’ (Ah! He has forgotten me?) Butterfly threatens suicide should Pinkerton not return, and then soon after, with Suzuki, sings the enchanting ‘Flower Duet’.
The admirable Patricia Racette sang and acted as if she really were Cio-Cio-San. Her emotions oozed out of every gesture, out of every note she sang. She was mesmerizing in this most demanding of physical and vocal roles. Her singing of the celebrated aria ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (One fine day) was both subtle and powerful.
That the late Anthony Minghella was a man of imagination was evident in this magical and at times surreal production, which even includes two dance numbers. Veiled, black-clad performers flitted about with delightful white opaque lanterns while curtains of falling flower petals representing stars covered the vast airy spaces of the stage. The lighting was both protagonist and antagonist, its varied hues wonderfully conveyed the emotional changes of the sundry characters, especially Butterfly’s. Bright orange and blood red dominated, creating backdrops of stunning visual sensations. Shoshi (sliding rice-paper doors of a Japanese home) were in abundance, often moved around the stage to give the impression of the interior of a Japanese home.
What was truly distinct, however, was the use of puppets to represent two servants in Act One and Sadness, Cio-Cio-San’s son, and Madama Butterfly in Act Two. The puppets were inspired by Japanese Bunrak puppetry, a refined theatrical art form developed in 17th-century Osaka. Normally less than lifesize, the puppets have no strings and are manipulated by three superbly qualified puppeteers who each handle a different body part. So effortless were the movements of the puppet representing Sadness that he appeared to be alive. The costumes of the performers were stunning, with every colour of the rainbow used to wonderful effect – kudos to Hang Feng, the costume designer. This is a colorful production in spite of the melancholic emotions which dominate the story.
Roberto Aronica (Pinkerton) wobbled a bit before his supple lyric tenor voice warmed up and he made for a convincing – if not always dashing – Pinkerton. The lengthy ‘Love Duet’ between Pinkerton and Butterfly that ends Act One was eloquently sung and, unlike a previous Met production of “Madama Butterfly” in which Pinkerton physically assaults Butterfly, finishes with a touching moment where Pinkerton carries Butterfly over the threshold.
Dwayne Croft (Sharpless) was in stentorian form. His booming voice packed a lot of punch but was also able to evoke concern and trepidation. His singing was effortless and when necessary, mellifluous. Maria Zifchak (Suzuki) gave a solidly convincing performance. At a rueful point in Act Two, she was actually crying! That is acting! Her mighty mezzo voice was a winning counterweight to Racette’s adept soprano.
Greg Fedderly (Goro) sang admirably, effectively employing his robust tenor to show both the comic (infrequent) and nasty (frequent) sides of his personality. David Won (Yamadori) combined pathos, resignation, anger, and love, and brought forth convincingly his conflicted emotions toward Butterfly. The rest of the singers performed well, and the chorus, though not much in evidence, was splendid, especially in two key moments – in Act One when Butterfly first appears and in Act Two in the hauntingly beautiful ‘Humming Chorus’.
Patrick Summers and the Met Orchestra were in top form. Note for note, the musicians complemented the singing, which flew off the stage sonorously and clearly, playing with dexterity and feeling. Puccini’s various motifs, such as the oft-played first bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, were made especially evident. Ostinato can create cathartic moments where emotion is intensified; in Act Two, when repetition creates wrenching despair as Sharpless tries to reveal to Butterfly the contents of Pinkerton’s letter, the orchestra let the scene play out brilliantly, never undermining the devastating emotions being witnessed. Puccini, the consummate man of the theater, would surely have loved the wondrous theatricality of this production.