Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is not just another Madama Butterfly, as those who know the work of Robert Wilson already will have deduced. In fact, the only hints that we are in Asia are the Zen-like surroundings--there are no sets and almost no props--and the Noh-ish ritualized movements for hand and bodies that Wilson is so fond of. But then again, his Lohengrin uses similar movements and spare surroundings, and that is set in Brabant. Wilson, as ever, is going for something deeper, right? Does it work?
Well, yes and no--but it's up to the audience to meet Wilson far more than halfway. The production is "more about animal behavior," says Wilson in an interview included on the DVD. "The performer is audience to his own work,"
tenor Martin Thompson tells us agreeably. "I'm used to emoting," says soprano Cheryl Barker with a thin sense of foreboding/agreement. What we get is a huge expanse of stage on a couple of subtle levels; the occasional chair; a cyclorama lit with a frequently changing series of colors that are both evocative and beautiful; exquisite costumes by Frida Parmeggiani that are as elegant as they are outside of a particular time; no glasses for Pinkerton and Sharpless to drink out of; a letter Sharpless reads a few words from and then dispenses with; no screens; and no sharp object with which Butterfly commits suicide. None of the characters ever touch--not even Pinkerton and Butterfly in their Love Duet--except for Butterfly and her child, which makes you sit up and notice. When characters strike a pose, they stay there; if they move, it is so subtly that it counts for either everything or nothing, depending on whether or not you have bought the entire act.
Edo de Waart's conducting is full of the emotion lacking in the movement, but he does not overcompensate. The drama moves along at a sensible pace, but he tends to lead at one dynamic level, and his Butterfly, Cheryl Barker, never attempts to portray an 18-year-old--let alone 15-year-old (in Act 1)--character. She sings with full voice--ardently, sensitively, assuredly--and strikes her poses as if she means them. Her makeup further distances us from the youngster Cio-Cio-San is supposed to be, but I'll leave that judgement open to opinion; Barker works through adversity (if that's how you see it) and creates a moving Butterfly.
Martin Thompson's Pinkerton is sung with ringing tone and somewhat more dynamic shading, and he's splendid despite the physical limitations Wilson has placed upon him. He and Barker are vocally stunning in their duet. Catherine Keen's Suzuki is sympathetic and matronly; Richard Stilwell's Sharpless sounds and looks elderly. Peter Blanchet's Goro is excellent--he's permitted (or takes) some stylized moves that add to his vivid portrayal--and the same can be said for the Bonze of Andrzej Saciuk, who flails effectively, especially given the circumstances. The remainder of the cast is splendid, and the chorus, gliding and swaying, is as good as the superb Netherlands Philharmonic.
The sound--you have three choices--is excellent, the 16.9 picture spotless. Subtitles are available in six languages, including Dutch. Bonuses include an illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, and interviews with Wilson, de Waart, and more. I realize it seems as if I'm waffling on whether or not this production works, and there will be passionate adherents and well as vilifiers. But I'll sum up by saying that Wilson is so sure of himself that despite the fact that with sound and subtitles off you could be watching almost anything set almost anywhere, if you've stuck with the show, you'll be both mesmerized and moved. And if you haven't been able to tolerate it, you will have run away after the first half hour. One man's mannerism is another man's deep interpretation.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Robert Wilson’s pure and highly stylised 2003 production enhances the timeless beauty of Puccini’s moving Japanese tragedy.
Cheryl Barker and Martin Thompson lead an inspired cast in a highly charged recording from the Amsterdam Muziektheater with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by a masterful and passionate Edo de Waart.
Running Time: 170 minutes
Picture Format: NTSC
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Works on This Recording
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Richard Stilwell (Baritone),
Catherine Keen (Mezzo Soprano),
Martin Thompson (Tenor),
Cheryl Barker (Soprano),
Peter Blanchet (Tenor),
Anneleen Bijnen (Mezzo Soprano)
Edo de Waart
Netherlands Opera Chorus,
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1904; Italy
Date of Recording: 2003
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