While not my favourite Puccini opera, that's Tosca closely followed by La Boheme, Madama Butterfly is still one of my favourites for it contains a truly heart-rending ending and with Un Bel Di Vedremo, the act 1 love duet, the final scene and the Humming Chorus some of Puccini's most beautiful music.
This Madama Butterfly is just lovely. I do prefer the 1986 performance for its authenticity and one of the best portrayals of Sharpless I've heard or seen, but this one is still one of my favourites, on the same level as the Raina Kabaivanska and Anna Moffo versions and just superior to the Met performance with Patricia Racette and the Jean Pierre Ponelle film.
Visually, the production is appealing. The sets are not the most beautiful or most authentic of all the productions of Madama Butterfly I've seen, but I didn't have a problem with them either. The production is also well lit, with sharp enough picture quality and clear sound. The costumes have colour to them as well and don't jar with the setting.
Musically, this Madama Butterfly also succeeds. The music itself is simply exquisite, and you need sensitive orchestral playing and musical conducting to do it justice, and the production had both, not to mention a well balanced chorus.
When it came to the staging, all the major scenes were done very well. As good as Un Bel Di Vedremo and Humming Chorus were, the two scenes that stood out were the act 1 love duet between Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton which was very erotically charged and the final scene(of all the final scenes of Puccini's operas this along with La Boheme's is the most moving) which simply had me bawling.
The performances were terrific. Richard Leech was a dashing and cynical Pinkerton with a simply incredible tenor voice that doesn't fall into the category of being too loud that it doesn't have any musicality. Wendy White is a sympathetic Suzuki and Dwayne Croft is an appropriately nuanced Sharpless. My favourite was Catherine Malfitano in the title role, her singing was powerful and her acting magnetic throughout, while she doesn't look like a teenager(then again do any Cio-Cio-Sans') she is one of the best I've seen in the role.
Overall, a lovely production of an equally lovely opera.
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