Notes and Editorial Reviews
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R E V I E W:
PUCCINI Madama Butterfly • Alexander Joel, cond; Alexia Voulgaridou (Cio-Cio San); Cristina Damian (Suzuki
class="ARIAL12">); Ida Aldrian (Kate); Teodor Ilincai (Pinkerton); Jürgen Sacher (Goro); Lauri Vasar (Sharpless); Hamburg PO; Hamburg St Op Ch • ARTHAUS 108 106 (Blu-ray: 137:00) Live: Hamburg 2012
What I expected, as I loaded this Blu-ray disc into the player, was another middle-of-the-road production of Madama Butterfly. I didn’t know the singers, wasn’t familiar with the conductor or stage director, the production had received little publicity and was coming from Hamburg, thankfully not a bastion of Regietheater, but usually not a major locale for opera. What I found waiting for me, was an absolutely riveting performance, both musically and dramatically, by Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou in the title role. I don’t mean just good, I’m talking spell-binding here, the kind of transcending opera magic you hope to see on rare occasions from the Met, or Covent Garden, or La Scala. Voulgaridou doesn’t look Japanese (in fact, none of the cast does); she spends much of the opera in blue jeans and a western-style shift dress, but she inhabits the role of Cio-Cio San like few others I have ever seen. Though Greek and not Romanian, Voulgaridou’s singing reminds me of diva Angela Gheorghiu with a bigger voice, a high compliment in my book. Voulgaridou’s singing is in an exalted class.
Oh sure, there are some problems with the production. The set centers around a rather Modernistic looking spiral staircase that continues down through the stage floor for entrance and egress. Not Puccini’s darling little Japanese bamboo house on a hill in Nagasaki? Probably not. The baritone Sharpless, Lauri Vasar, looks too seedy and too young to be an American consul or to be giving anyone advice on their love lives. He also sings poorly. Director Vincent Boussard, despite overwhelming evidence in the libretto, spends the evening trying to convince us Cio-Cio San’s child is but a figment of her fevered imagination. A toy doll is used. At one point Suzuki snatches it up by the arm and flings it up onto a shelf in a toy closet full of dozens of other toys. At the conclusion, Butterfly’s death, the doll’s head pops off and rolls down the stage. An interesting concept, if much of the act III plot didn’t revolve around the fate of the kid. Butterfly’s aforementioned suicide is rendered off stage, vitiating much of the horrific final drama. There are some other bright spots as well. Tenor Teodor Ilincai gives us a top notch B. F. Pinkerton and the Suzuki of Cristina Damian is also very good. Puccini’s score, as usual, seduces the ear, and the Hamburg forces, orchestra and chorus, do it full justice. But the night belongs to soprano Voulgaridou, who is nothing short of exquisite, the real deal.
The Arthaus Blu-ray disc comes with only PCM stereo, no surround format, unusual these days. For the uninitiated that means only two discrete sound signals instead of five or seven, but a good surround processor can make much of it, nevertheless. To sing the role of Cio-Cio San a soprano requires the lungs of a drill sergeant, but the opera itself is scented and delicate, difficult to get the tinta completely right. Some of that fragrance and delicate color comes up a bit short in this Hamburg production, but you will seldom see a more poignant bit of opera than Voulgaridou gives us here. In the past, I have suggested sets with Mirella Freni, Anna Moffo, and Patricia Racette. I don’t know what to tell you now, Voulgaridou is better. This Arthaus Butterfly is not the desert island version, but it is very good. Highly recommended.
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Works on This Recording
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Lauri Vasar (Baritone),
Cristina Damian (Mezzo Soprano),
Teodor Ilincai (Tenor),
Alexia Voulgaridou (Soprano)
Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra,
Hamburg State Opera Chorus
Written: 1904; Italy
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