LA Opera’s Madame Butterfly by Puccini Review – High Art and Deep Emotion

The LA Opera’s current production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is one of the most sublime opera experiences I’ve ever had.  Everything works in the most magical ways, reverberating the musical, humanistic and political themes.  It stars Ana Maria Martinez, a Grammy winner who has performed this very demanding title role for many of the top opera houses in the world. At LA Opera she has taken lead roles in La Boheme, La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra and Pagliacci.   Her voice, portraying the all-consuming passion of youth, haunting melancholy, and the deepest of sorrows and despair, is lilting and emotive. 

 

The divinely expressive Ana Maria Martinez

In LA Opera's Music Director and Conductor James Conlon’s enlightening notes on Puccini, he states “his muse is the suffering of his heroines” whom he explores and feels with “great tenderness” and “deep empathy.” It is interesting that Puccini first saw this story as a play in England. Even without understanding the language, he responded deeply and knew he wanted to create his magical “theatrical humanism.”

Butterfly's relatives come to celebrate her wedding

When Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) sings the famous aria “Un Bel Di,” she fervently clings to hope for her love’s return.  The audience has seen the superficiality of her husband, Pinkerton, played so smugly by Stefano Secco. There was much weeping on the part of the audience.  During the curtain call, the audience could not help but “boo” at Secco as Pinkerton for all the pain he caused.

 

He is not worthy of her great love

The cast, led by Martinez, is outstanding in acting as well as singing. Of special note is Melena Kitic playing Suzuki, Butterfly’s faithful companion who worries and weeps for her. Her piercing voice hits the right notes and contributes to the escalating danger.

 

Suzuki keeps a close eye on Butterfly

The introduction of Michael Alspaugh as Butterfly’s young son in the end - blindfolded as his mother cuts her own throat - shows his own strong feelings toward his father. And what he represents is another gasping show-stopper.

Tender relationship between mother and child

 

Deep in the simple story are echoes of racism, sexism, young innocent love betrayed, women’s economic and social inequality, as well as imperialism and political blowback.  An American naval officer in Japan takes a young Japanese wife, but he doesn’t take the marriage seriously. It’s just a fling for him until he can go home and get an American wife.  But the Japanese wife is devoted to him entirely, heart and soul. He leaves her behind to spend her hours dreaming and waiting for his return. When he finally comes back to Japan, it is with his American wife.

 

Pinkerton's remorse--too little too late

It is easy for Pinkerton to disregard the deep feelings of Butterfly because his innate feeling of superiority as an American is an accepted feeling among his peers.  His sweetheart had to work as a geisha to support herself, another tier of society that is considered “less than.” The economic system is rigged for men and makes women dependent and needy.

 

Sharpless tries to protect Butterfly

Kihun Yoon as the wonderful Sharpless, the consul, is the voice of compassion to Pinkerton’s offhanded insensitivity, warning him many times to be careful, as Butterfly is completely sincere. 

The orchestra is magnificent under James Conlon.  Not a moment of untruth or discord was felt throughout the almost three-hour production.

 

Butterfly loses love and life

The production itself comes from the Santa Fe Opera, and it also lends itself to a fresh retelling of the story.  No stiff, heavily made up, or traditionally costumed garb for this Butterfly (costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel). All is very naturalistic while keeping the Japanese flavor.  The house onstage works perfectly, as its sliding pieces help to create new playing areas.  The opening vision, with a setting sun and a few spare Japanese branches, is beautiful.  These give the players more freedom of movement and ability to throw their bodies fully into the enormously emotional saga. Set designer is Jean-Marc Puissant. Director is Lee Blakely.

 

Beautiful sets

I would encourage any and everybody to get a ticket to Madame Butterfly to soak in the very high artistic achievement playing at LA Opera.

 

Photos by Ken Howard for LA Opera

Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.

 

LA OPERA

Address: 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
  • Wednesday March 23, 2016 07:30 PM 
      
  • Saturday March 26, 2016 07:30 PM 

    Thursday March 31, 2016 07:30 PM 

  • Sunday April 03, 2016 02:00 PM 

 

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