A revival of Madama Butterfly opened 27. May at San Francisco Opera. Directed by Ron Daniels and designed by Michael Yeargan, the production involves shoji screens that slide across the stage. This device was used quite a lot, and it was slightly tiresome. Also, the paintings and calligraphy on the screens in Act I were not good, and there were too many of them all bunched together without any regard. The stage creaked a bit, but at least the screens were mostly quiet. The choreography was not thoughtful, particularly ridiculous was when the chorus sang "Rispondi, Cio-cio-san!" and they all turned around and pointed their fans at Butterfly each time they repeated these words.
The singing was consistent, no one stood out, but no one sang poorly either. Everyone acted well. Pinkerton was sung by tenor Franco Farina, who had good volume but was somewhat late during a duet with Sharpless in Act I. Everyone was crazy for Patricia Racette, the Merola alumna who sang the title role. She received a standing ovation. Her voice isn't bad, she has too much vibrato when singing loudly, betraying a lack of control. Her voice is pretty but neither angelic nor sweet, and cold.
I must admit that Madama Butterfly is not my favorite, there is a lot of dissonance and only one aria, Un Bel dì, vedremo, that doesn't bore me. The snippets from The Star-Spangled Banner and the various orientalist motifs are tiresome. I do enjoy the interspersed English, including "America for ever," "Butterfly," and "Whiskey."
The audience was incredibly stupid. They laughed at the various interactions between Sharpless and Butterfly in both Acts I and II. The Act I laughter is understandable, when Sharpless asks if Butterfly has sisters and she responds that she does not, but she has a mother, but they laughed when they saw the supertitles, now both above the stage and on the sides, not when the words were sung. They also laughed when Sharpless guessed Butterfly's age as 10. However, in Act II, they laughed when Butterfly asked when the robins nest in America, and when she tells her child to say his name is Dolore, or "sorrow." I suspect many were there because of the geisha aspect of the plot.
Quant' anni avete?
Quindici netti, netti;
sono vecchia diggià.
Mio marito m'ha promesso
di ritornar nella stagion beata
che il pettirosso rifà la nidiata.
Qui l'ha rifatta per ben tre volte, ma
può darsi che di là
usi nidiar men spesso.
Oggi il mio nomè Dolore. Però
dite al babbo, scrivendogli, che il giorno
del suo ritorno,
Gioia, Gioia mi chiamerò.