Monday, July 18, 2011

Madama Butterfly Preview 2011-12

Madama Butterfly Preview 2011-2012

Anthony Minghella’s production returns for the fourth time at the Met. Since its opening in 2006, the production has become a favorite to Met audiences. The production mixes Japanese theater with opera. The staging is minimal with little furniture. It is made up of sliding doors which change the scene and mirrors at the back of the stage creating double images and lighting effects. Cio Cio San’s son is represented by a puppet which is animated by three men dressed in black and there is also the use of traditional Japanese dance. Anthony Minghella's approach was to use Japanese culture as a way of further studying the opera and its characters. He also had minimal furniture because he believed it would help develop the characters and bring them closer to the audience. According to the singers Minghella’s approach to acting was the same as his approach to film. He would tell the singers to look into a box. Whatever was in the box was all that needed to be expressed. In other words his goal was to get rid of all big gestures usually expected on stage in order to create more realistic characters. The final product was one of beauty with breathtaking visuals and emotional weight not seen in any new production Peter Gelb has brought to the Met since his first season as general manager. The reason for this was that Minghella held a focus on his direction and knew exactly where he wanted to go with the opera. It’s sad that such an amazing talent passed away. He will surely be remembered by me and others for his magnificent opera production and his wonderful films. The production is a co-production with the English National Opera and Lithuanian National Opera. To see the complete production there is a DVD from Sony Classical.

The Cast

Patricia Racette returns to the role of Cio Cio San, a role which in my opinion is her calling card and her greatest role. As I stated in my Tosca preview Racette is best suited for Puccini as her voice is lush, expressive and dramatic. She can express every word and bring the audience through many different emotional sates. When I saw her two years ago her Madama Butterfly was the best performance I saw that year. I suffered with her character throughout the performance and also I felt happy for her at the end of the first act. Even though Cio Cio San is supposed to be 15 years old and Racette is 40, Racette showed her girlish side and it was fully believable. This proved that Racette is also a great actress. Because her performance was so convincing and garnered rave reviews the Met rewarded her with an HD transmission. This performance is now available on DVD. 

Liping Zhang alternates with Racette singing Cio Cio San. Having made her Met debut in 2004 Zhang has sang all throughout the world and is best known for her portrayal of Cio Cio San. Zhang was hailed for her soft tone and her great acting skills when she sang in Los Angeles. With these qualities Zhang should easily triumph in Minghella's production. 

Liping Zhang, as Cio-Cio-San, during a dress rehearsal of the first act of Los Angeles Opera's "Madame Butterfly" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Robert Dean Smith returns to the Met after a Wagner and a Strauss opera. He’ll sing Pinkerton and I suspect it may be a great one. I remember when he sang Tristan und Isolde, a heldentenor role which he sang surprisingly lyrically, and with great breath control. His voice is surprisingly lyrical and youthful.  His high notes are pitch perfect. There is no sense of strain and as an actor Smith is perfect. Smith may be the most appealing Pinkerton since Jonas Kaufmann.

 Marcello Giordani returns to the Met in a role he created for the production. Marcello Giordani is a good actor. However his voice is a different matter. He has a good mezza voce and pretty good low notes. However his high notes are of concern. He screams a lot of them and the ones he doesn't scream are strained and forced. His breath control is also of concern. After half an hour of singing he sounds tired and can barely sustain his phrases. Luckily Pinkerton is a short role and Giordani will be able to hold his ground.

Laurent Naouri makes his awaited Met debut in the role of Sharpless. His voice is very lyrical with good top notes. He is also a good actor. Without a doubt, he will make a youthful Sharpless. 

Racette and Zhang should triumph in these roles making this another highlight and a must see this year.  

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