Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Madama Butterfly at Glimmerglass

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and
Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
On Monday, July 21, I saw the second performance of Madama Butterfly at the Glimmerglass Festival. Another triumph, another visually stunning show, more great performances. I'm running out of accolades to use when describing what I see at Glimmerglass. With Michael Yeargen's sets, Robert Wierzel's lighting, and Anita Yavitch's costumes, all the visual elements combined effectively to create a strikingly beautiful and fluid effect.

Director Francesca Zambello has set some scenes in the American consulate in Nagasaki instead of Cio-Cio-San's house, the original setting. The intent was to place additional focus on Cio-Cio San's outsider status both in her own community and in the community of Americans in Nagasaki. Yes, that intention was met, with the additional bonus of showing how common it was for Japanese women to have half-American babies and seek aid from the consulate, but I can't say it added much to the opera for me. In fact, I wound up wondering why all these American women were working in an American office in Nagasaki. Wouldn't any American woman in Nagasaki at that time be there because of her husband, and not be working outside the home? And wouldn't any single American woman be unlikely to find herself in Nagasaki?

Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless (center) 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
No matter. Back to the superlatives. A shining cast of young guest artists and Glimmerglass Young Artists brought the opera to life. Yunah Lee and Dinyar Vania have sung Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton before many times, and proved they have the vocal goods, particularly as the afternoon warmed up and so did their voices. They were at their best vocally and dramatically in the last act, which we all know is devastating. Kristen Choi was a very effective Suzuki, and Aleksey Bogdanov was also a good Sharpless. Both are thankless roles that require excellent singing and acting. Sharpless in particular does a lot of listening, and must react to what he's told.

As usual, smaller roles were fulfilled by members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program. Ian McEuen in particular deserves praise for his Goro.

Madama Butterfly runs through August 23 at Glimmerglass. Once again, I recommend this show.

P.S. I saw the next performance of Madama Butterfly on Thursday, July 24. Much, much better performances vocally and dramatically from all. I didn't mention it before, but I think the fact Monday's show was a matinee had an effect on the singing.

One single concept still irks me--using the US consulate instead of Cio-Cio-San's house for some scenes. So some of the chorus music is sung by people in 1904 American garb, instead of people from Cio-Cio-Sa's own community. The text makes more sense to my feeble mind if it comes from her community--mocking her naive pride, berating her for abandoning her own traditions to adopt American ways, etc.

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