Notes and Editorial Reviews
This two-disc set documents the revival of Peter Gelb's inaugural production of Puccini's
Madama Butterfly at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, telecast in Times Square and in the plaza at Lincoln Center to the delight of thousands when it was brand new in 2006. It is exquisitely designed by Michael Levine and directed by the late film auteur Anthony Minghella. Since the director's death, his widow and the show's choreographer, Carolyn Choa, has been responsible for the stunning, evocative action. This performance was filmed in high-definition in March 2009.
Highly stylized and in bold, brilliant colors, our first visual is of a young Japanese woman approaching from the rear or the stage, trailing twenty-foot-long red scarves from her kimono; a sloping mirror rises from the rear of the stage multiplying the image and turning it into a kaleidoscopic event. Figures in black wearing veils — a repeated image throughout — circle her and wrap her in fabric. Only then does Puccini's music begin. The entire experience is practically tactile, and the rest of the production follows suit. Han Feng's costumes constantly surprise and please and Peter Mumford's lighting, making the most of the mirror that appears and disappears throughout, adds to the all-consuming physical enchantment. Butterfly enters wearing white against a sky of brilliant blue; her love duet with Pinkerton takes place amidst dozens of white lanterns and their reflections; later, curtains of flower petals fall from the sky. The stage is almost invariably empty of props; color and action take their place and we can focus on the singers. Minghella has minimized the singers' actions as well; there is no over-emoting. The sad story is allowed to speak for itself.
But Minghella's true coup-de-théâtre begins in the second act, when Butterfly, in her confrontation with Sharpless, shows him the child she has borne Pinkerton. The boy is played by a Bunraku puppet, operated by three veiled men in black. Yes, it startles and amuses at first, but as the opera continues we grow accustomed to it. The puppet is so effortlessly manipulated that even if our disbelief is never truly suspended, we are captivated by how real he seems and how touchingly Butterfly relates to him — and him to her. Look carefully at the face and you'll realize that it is emotionless; take a longer view and you'll feel that he's real. In the interlude before the last scene, a puppet Butterfly and male dancer enact the couple's upcoming tragic meeting. It is performed while the actual cast sits perfectly still; the effect is enchanting and troubling at once.
Patricia Racette's Butterfly is magnificent. Her full-bodied voice is imbued with a warm vibrato and her phrasing is natural and sharply musical. But just as crucially, she listens and reacts like a young girl and her movements are economical; her face registers her inner feelings — a remarkable portrayal. Marcello Giordani sings and plays Pinkerton with handsome tone and intelligence; his early swagger is offset by the realization of what he's done in the final scene. Dwayne Croft's Sharpless is sympathetic and Maria Zifchak's Suzuki is grandly sung and well-acted: her silent reaction to Cio-Cio-San's conversion to Christianity speaks volumes. Patrick Summers leads with intensity and great understanding.
Both sound and picture are splendid, as is Gary Halvorson's direction for the screen.
– Robert Levine, Listen [Spring 2011]
"In every dimension Ms. Racette’s effort was exceptional; hers is a performance not to be missed." – The New York Times
"Anthony Minghella’s sumptuous production of Madama Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s heartbreaking tale of love and betrayal, offers viewers a rare visual treat...Minghella, who died unexpectedly in March 2008, marks his debut in opera with the re-staging of Madama Butterfly – this is also the first time in 20 years that a new production has opened at the Met. The New York Times described it as “a gorgeous cinematic spectacle.”...Madama Butterfly, conducted by Patrick Summers, features costumes by Han Feng, with sets by Michael Levine, lighting by Peter Mumford, choreography by Carolyn Choa, and puppetry by the Blind Summit Theater." – PBS.org
Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San, Marcello Giordani as American Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton, Maria Zifchak as Suzuki and Dwayne Croft as Sharpless. Patrick Summers conducts the Metropolitan Opera and Chorus.
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