Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton.
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas
That is my review of Francesca Zambello’s production of Madame Butterfly for the Glimmerglass Festival. I will use a few more words to describe the production for understandable reasons.
The production has an outstanding cast starting with soprano Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio San. The 15-year Japanese girl who marries Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton (tenor Dinyar Vania) can be seen as fragile, weak and the victim of her family and the American officer. Not in this production. Lee portrays Cio-Cio San as a strong woman who is genuinely in love. She has a beautiful and strong voice that carries magnificently and this Madame Butterfly dies in the end because she is strong. A brilliant and memorable performance that garnered a well-deserved standing ovation.
Vania’s Pinkerton was excellent if more the text-book variety. With his fine singing and handsome bearing, Vania gave us a well-done, haughty Pinkerton who repents his errors in the end. You can’t ask for much more and I mean of Vania, not of Pinkerton’s morality.
The role of Sharpless, the American Consul, usually does not get much attention. In this production Ukrainian baritone Aleksey Bogdanov made Sharpless into an exceptionally humane person. With his fine voice and outstanding acting, Bogdanov gave us a decent and sympathetic Consul that stood out from the rest of the people.
American mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi was a superb Suzuki and the rest of the relatively minor characters made a strong cast in this WOW production.
The highest praise belongs to Zambello, the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. The conception and execution of the production belong to her. The music is delivered gorgeously by the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra conducted by Joseph Colaneri.
Madame Butterfly is set in a Japanese house on a hill overlooking the harbour and the city of Nagasaki. Zambello and Set Designer Michael Yeargan have moved most of the action to the American Consulate in Nagasaki. There are a couple of scenes in the house on the hill but the consular offices decorated with a few desks and other such furniture are the focal point.
There are some odd things but the conception works marvellously giving the production an American slant and feel. In the opening scene Goro the marriage broker (Ian McEuen) is showing off the house on the hill. We are in the consulate in this production and Zambello solves the problem by having Goro show a model of the house. When Sharpless complains about the hard climb, we just ignore it.
When the Bonze (Thomas Richards) appears to renounce and denounce Cio-Cio San appears the lighting changes, the furniture fades away and we are transported to the top of the hill. A few simple, translucent panels are sufficient to indicate Pinkerton’s and Cio-Cio-San’s brief love nest.
The overall effect is startling, electric, astounding. Madame Butterfly, a strong woman, in the busy American consular offices gives a very different feel from her as a poor girl on the top of a hill. She sings her moving aria “Un bel di vedremo” in the consulate rather than on the hill and it is full of passion, faith and longing.
In the final scene, she stabs herself and a blood-red curtain is lowered on the stage. Pinkerton rushes on stage, tears down the curtain and embraces Butterfly. Their little boy (the very cute Louis McKinny) rushes in and jumps on his father’s back. There is not a dry eye in the house.
Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini John opened on July 11 and will be performed a total of thirteen times until August 23, 2014 as part of the Glimmerglass Festival at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org