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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Madama Butterfly

A revival of Anthony Minghella's evocative staging.
by Paul J. Pelkonen.
My son, the puppet. Kristine Opolais in Act III of Madama Butterfly.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

Anthony Minghella's spare production of Madama Butterfly reduced the opera to a bright wash of colors and fabrics against a spare black acting surface. Two casts appear this season. Aña Maria Martinez has stepped in to replace Hei-Kyung Hong opposite Massimo Giordano in the first run of performances and Kristine Opolais with Roberto Alagna in the second.

Puccini's opera tells the story of a Japanese courtesan who falls in love with an American sailor, only to be abandoned when he sails away. Years later, Pinkerton returns to Nagasaki to see his "wife" and young child, (with his "real American bride" in tow) Butterfly commits ritual suicide in the tradition of her Japanese ancestors.

Mr. Minghella's production was the first great success of Peter Gelb's administration at the Met. The show makes innovative use of dancers and shadow puppets to bring out the authentic Japanese atmosphere of the opera. But it is Puccini's glorious, soaring music that will rend the heart, particularly the famous soprano showpiece "Un bel di."

Madama Butterfly opens February 19, 2016. The April 2, 2016 performance will be part of the Met's Live in HD series.

Recording Recommendations:
Coro e Orchestra de Teatro dell'Opera di Roma cond. Sir John Barbirolli (EMI, 1967)
Cio-Cio San: Renata Scotto
Lt. B. F. Pinkerton: Carlo Bergonzi
Sharpless: Rolando Panerai
Suzuki: Anna di Stasio
Goro: Piero da Palma

There are a number of fine Butterfly recordings, but this set is ahead of the pack, thanks to the expert conducting of Sir John Barbiriolli. The British maestro leads an authentic, Italian chorus and orchestra, with excellent results--this is passionate music-making. The young Renata Scotto is at her best as Puccini's heroine. Carlo Bergonzi is a seductive, impressive presence as Pinkerton, and almost makes you feel sympathy toward his feckless character.

Tickets for Madama Butterfly are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.