Madama Butterfly is a truly lovely opera. Tosca and La Boheme, regarding Puccini, are operas of his that I put slightly over, but I cannot question how touching the story is and how gorgeous(some of Puccini's most beautiful) the music is. I was very impressed by this production. There are some fine productions of Madama Butterfly about, the 1986 La Scala, 1983 Kabaivanska and 1955 Anna Moffo ones are my top picks with only the one from 2004 with Daniela Dessi not worth bothering with. And this is no exception.
It is not a perfect production perhaps, though the flaws are overrided by the many great things. The dancers during the Humming Chorus were incredibly distracting(Goro's kimono and Pinkerton's green-lit hair were also weird but nowhere near as blatant), adding absolutely nothing to the story or scene. That beautiful chorus would have been far more effective if they had not been used. The wedding scene is somewhat over-populated and even too grandiose, I felt as though I was watching Act 2 of Aida rather than Act 1 of Butterfly. I understand what Zeffirelli was trying to do and it was very well-intended, but it did feel too much at the end of the day. And Mina Blum is just terrible as Kate, she was too old, to the extent that she would pass more for Sharpless' wife, too matronly and far too rough-edged vocally. It is a short role, but when it is performed this poorly it does stick out like a sore thumb.
Everything else was great though. The production does look beautiful and tasteful visually, the details are very authentic and the colours are a feast for the eyes. The staging is traditional and done in taste(apart from the dancers). All the major scenes like the final scene are done with intelligence and pathos, and there is evidence of a director accommodating his singers and also bringing humanity to the characters, even to Pinkerton. The video directing is well-orchestrated and doesn't intrude, while the sound is fantastic. Likewise with how the musical values fare. The orchestra bring a shimmering beauty to their playing and embrace the poetry of the score. The chorus interact well and sing with a vibrant sound, while Daniel Oren provides an exciting and nuanced reading.
Fiorenza Cedolins is wonderful as Cio-Cio San(aka Madama Butterfly). As a 15-year old girl she may not be convincing, then again who in the role has been? (unless you want a premature vocal crisis you ideally shouldn't sing the role, or any other operatic role for that matter, at 15 anyway) Anna Moffo on DVD has been the closest to that age, though Mirella Freni always looked younger than her actual age as well. The singing and acting, of a role that is much more difficult than you perceive it to be, matters more in my opinion, and Cedolins meets both with few qualms at all. She does have a more mature voice than most sopranos singing Cio-Cio San, perhaps she could at times have been more girlish-sounding, but it is an appealing and musical instrument and the right voice type(lyric-spinto soprano) at least. Here she also gives some of her best and passionate ever acting, heart-breaking especially at the end of Act 3.
Pinkerton is not the most likable of characters and that's an understatement, but although he is mostly the most hateful tenor character in the whole of opera there is a pang of sympathy you have for him in his remorse in Act 3. Marcello Giordani has never been the most even of performers for me, but here he does give one of his better performances. His tone is beautiful and rings out with little signs of strangulation, and while I have not always rated him highly as an actor he doesn't underplay the hateful side of the role and his remorse is convincing. Juan Pons' Sharpless is superb, the second best performance of the production after Cedolins. I love how sympathetic and caring he is, and he provides some fine singing, large but nuanced and much more controlled than in the Dessi production. The Suzuki of Francesca Franci is beautifully sung and affecting, though perhaps too elegant for a character as poor as she is, something I lie with Zeffirelli rather than Franci. Goro and Bonze are solidly characterised, and the child is winsome, innocent and a very poignant actor. Only Kate is a major let down in the performances. So overall, imperfect but touching and beautiful with great performances. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?