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Madama Butterfly (2010)

The heroine of this beloved opera finds herself faced with a dreadful choice: life without dignity or death with honor. Hear some of Puccini's most soaring and captivating music in this classic story of colliding hearts and cultures.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Patricia Racette ...
Brandon Jovanovich ...
Zheng Cao ...
Stephen Powell ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Raymond Aceto ...
Eugene Chan ...
Dylan Hatch ...
Child
Bill Pickersgill ...
Registrar
Donald Runnicles ...
Himself - Conducted by
San Francisco Opera Chorus ...
People
Jere Torkelsen ...
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The heroine of this beloved opera finds herself faced with a dreadful choice: life without dignity or death with honor. Hear some of Puccini's most soaring and captivating music in this classic story of colliding hearts and cultures.

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Drama | Music

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9 May 2010 (USA)  »

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16:9 HD
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A minimalistic Butterfly that works very well
26 August 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I have always loved Puccini's music, and Madama Butterfly has some of his most beautiful. I do just prefer Tosca and La Boheme in regard to Puccini's operas, but love Madama Butterfly just as much. Whether it is my favourite production I am not sure, there are the 1986 La Scala, 1956 Anna Moffo and 1983 Raina Kabaivanska performances that I do prefer and I also adore the partnership of Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo in the 1975 Ponnelle film, but this production from San Francisco still manages to be a very good one.

On a visual level, it mayn't work for everybody but it is not too bad and I have seen far worse production values(the 2004 Torre Del Lago production of Madama Butterfly is so outrageous visually that it has to be seen to be believed and preferably forgotten about). People will prefer their settings to be more colourful and authentic, while the minimalistic settings worked within the basic concept, I am one of those who would have preferred it. However the costumes are simply beautiful, and the video directing was unobtrusive, capturing the action well and didn't seem too fascinated on the conductor too much.

From a musical point of view, it is really great. The orchestral playing is beautifully balanced and makes the score as lush as it already is. The conducting was a little rushed at the end but was much more sensitive and lyrical for the rest of the production. The chorus are excellent, especially the ladies, who sing with beauty of tone and come across as very passionate as Cio-Cio San(or Madama Butterfly) is scorned for forsaking their religion. The Humming Chorus is sonorously sung and moving in its impact. In regards to the staging, it doesn't have any questionable touches, nor is it static. Most of it is solid, with the crucial scenes done well.

Patricia Racette is an exceptional Cio-Cio San. At the start maybe she could have been more childlike and innocent, however everything else more than makes up for that. I do think she is in better voice than she was at the Met, she sang beautifully then, but there is less of the flattening attack on high notes here, which some may find more pleasant on the ear. The lyric-spinto tone of her voice is powerful yet beautiful, and she sings very musically in Un Bel Di Vedremo, the Act 1 love duet and especially in the final scene(as it should do that scene made me weep). Her acting is very committed and affecting. Does she look like a 15 year old? No. Then again, few other Cio-Cio Sans I've seen do. Besides I sincerely doubt that a 15 year old would be able to sing this role anyway.

Brandon Jovanovich is fine as Pinkerton. He looks and sounds like you'd expect a tenor to be like singing Puccini. His voice is very virile yet floats beautifully on top. He is also very tall, well-built and handsome. Despite these qualities, Pinkerton is not the most likable of characters(Cavaradossi for example is much easier to feel empathy for), and Jovanovich doesn't hold back in making him strong-willed and two-faced. Anybody unfamiliar with the opera and judge the type of role by the looks and voice might be shocked by the character traits. I have to say as much as I find Suzuki a sympathetic character, I have rarely seen one that moves me so much on the same level as Cio-Cio San. Zheng Cao absolutely does. Her voice is the most beautiful of the principal cast in my opinion, and as well as displaying Suzuki's loyalty and devotion in her gestures and facial expressions but her grief over hearing the news of Pinkerton's wife is heart-breaking.

Stephen Powell makes his San Francisco Opera debut, and it is an impressive if not definitive account of the American Counsel Sharpless. It is a very well-sung performance, and Powell does show a soft and caring side in when he is reading the letter from Pinkerton to Cio-Cio San as well as an angry side at Pinkerton's thoughtlessness. He does come across at times as a little too formal though. The more secondary roles are not as good but not bad either. Matthew O'Neill is a much more human Goro than I remember, after hearing and seeing some Goros that come across as too gimmicky and somewhat obnoxious I found that trait refreshing. Not so good was Raymond Aceto's Bonzo, his singing is fine if much more attractive than most singers in this role but I didn't find him anywhere fearsome enough. I think it was direction this said, I have seen him before and I think he is a good actor on stage.

Dylan Hatch is a charmer as the young son Trouble. Overall, minimalistic but on the most part works very well. 8/10 Bethany Cox


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