Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Butterfly (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) agree on soprano Lianna Haroutounian.
I am not a big fan of Puccini or of this opera with its Orientalist theme, however, Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San) had me right away. She is completely emotionally engaged and her brilliant, flexible voice is never seems strained or constricted. The support of the orchestra, which was a little fast in Act I under Yves Abel, was wonderful in Act II.
The rest of the cast is likewise strong, as has been the case all season. Tenor Vincenzo Costanzo's US debut as Pinkerton was notable, his voice is plaintive, with much vibrato at the top, but not at all unpleasant. His duet with Butterfly at the end of Act I seemed quite heartfelt and lovely. In his San Francisco Opera debut, Anthony Clark Evans was a warm Sharpless.
Zanda Švēde (Suzuki) was not her usual self, as she was ill, but she did fairly well and certainly hit all her marks as far as acting is concerned. Julius Ahn was an unctuous Goro whose sliminess reads with perfect clarity even from the very back of the house. Raymond Aceto made for a convincing Bonze.
The revival production (Act I pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Jun Kaneko and directed by Leslie Swackhamer, has much appeal in its spiraling circular stage filled with concentric circles and off center round platform. The set forces a certain kind of movement to navigate, which is more apparent from above, and keeps the staging from ever feeling static.
This is helped also by the many screens raised and lowered for moving projections and by the four stagehands dressed in black (kurogo). The scenes keep moving without having to stop the drama or music.
* Tattling *
A group of six sat near me in Row L Seats 118 to 128, and they chattered a lot when Haroutounian was not singing. I was able to ignore them, especially since I kept crying during Act II.
Act II of Madama Butterfly opens with Suzuki (Elizabeth DeShong) praying to her gods for aid, as Cio-Cio-San (Patricia Racette) stands by the doorway with her eyes fixed on the harbor.
Reviewers acknowledge that Patricia Racette's voice has declined in San Francisco Opera's latest Madama Butterfly (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver), but find the singer's dramatic abilities intact.
* Notes *
Jun Kaneko's production of Madama Butterfly (Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San, Brian Jagde as Pinkerton, and Brian Mulligan as Sharpless in Act I pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) had a fifth performance at San Francisco Opera last night. The set and costumes have an elegant guilelessness. The staging, directed by Leslie Swackhamer, is likewise straightforward and makes charming use of four kurogo (stagehands dressed in black).
Maestro Nicola Luisotti had the orchestra sounding lush and sweeping. The chorus was robust. The casting is rather luxurious. Morris Robinson is a plush-toned Bonze. Brian Mulligan makes for a rich-sounding Sharpless. Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) has a startlingly lovely voice. The trio with Sharpless, Suzuki, and Pinkerton in Act II was exceedingly beautiful.
Brian Jagde is a convincing Pinkerton and he sang well. He has a lot of volume. Sadly, the opera hinges on having a great Butterfly, and Patricia Racette fell short. Her acting is certainly strong, and her voice has a lot of power and emotion. However, her wide vibrato marred the piece's best-loved arias.
* Tattling *
Many people were late and stood in the standing room area on the orchestra level. Someone was upset about not being seated and complained loudly, hurling invectives at the ushers.
* Notes *
The November performances of Madama Butterfly at San Francisco Opera star Daniela Dessì in the title role. Dessì's vocal entrance was muted, at least on the orchestra level, and one could barely make out the lines of her voice. Once she was on stage, she was audible, though not terribly robust. She has a wonderful vulnerability that suits the part and her movements also conveyed the fragility and tenderness of Butterfly. Her "Un bel dì" was pretty.
Perhaps Julian Kovatchev did not have many rehearsals before taking over for Maestro Luisotti, who is off to conduct La fanciulla del West at the Met. The playing sounded like the whole piece was marked ritardando, and seemed to grow slower and slower by the bar. The orchestra and chorus were not exactly together. The harp did sound especially lovely, however, the individual contributions of the orchestra members could not save the performance, it was rather dull.
* Tattling *
There was outright commentary during the music in addition to much unwrapping of cough drops.
* Notes *
Harold Prince's production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The revolving set, designed by Clarke Dunham, is pretty enough. Though not terribly elegant, it is sure to delight most. The transitions were fluid. Director José Maria Condemi certainly was presented a challenge of getting people on, off, and around this set.
Maestro Luisotti conducted the orchestra with verve, the playing was sweeping and painterly. The chorus also made strong contributions, and received the only ovation during the music, after the Humming Chorus. Both the Adlers looked and sounded appropriate for Kate Pinkerton (Sara Gartland) and Prince Yamadori (Austin Kness). Christian Van Horn was intimidating as the Bonze. Quinn Kelsey was a tender, kind Sharpless, his voice is rich and strong. Thomas Glenn (Goro) was foppish but also oozed unctuousness. His voice is light but always audible. Daveda Karanas (Suzuki) has a powerful, yet lovely voice. Her notes floated over the orchestra with ease.
Our leads were perhaps less appealing. Stefano Secco was not the least bit dashing as Pinkerton, though his singing was perfectly fine. His volume is good, there is richness in his lower register, but he is not exciting. In the title role, the petite Svetla Vassileva looked comely, at least when she was still. Her gestures were distressing, as if she was having convulsions limited just to her hands. When she noticed that her hair became accidently unbundled in Act II, she was unable to keep in character. Worse yet, her voice could be shrill and her intonation was imperfect. She did pull it together for "Un bel dì," and only one phrase was really off in pitch. Her timbre can be pleasant, with nice resonances in her chest voice, but she was a bit too hearty to be a vulnerable young girl.
* Tattling *
There was light talking during the music, but I did not hear any watch alarms. I did have a seat in the Orchestra Ring, as I volunteered in the gift shop, however, I found I was more comfortable in standing room.
A medical emergency occurred on the north side of the Premium Orchestra seating during the transition between Acts II and III. Many people stood up in the aisle to either help or to get out of the way. A nurse was called in, as was the house manager. The ailing person in question was taken out in a wheelchair.
* Notes *
Festival Opera's of latest production of Madama Butterfly opened last night in Walnut Creek. The orchestra sounded full and loud under Joseph Marcheso, although there were only thirty-six musicians. The brass was surprisingly clear and tuneful, but the strings fared less well. One of the celli was noticeably out of tune throughout the performance.
The singing was all perfectly appropriate and fine, though there were times when the singers did not quite keep up with the orchestra. John Bischoff was convincing as the Bonze, as was Elizabeth O'Neill as Kate Pinkerton. Nicole Takesono was a bit breathy as Suzuki, but her movements were graceful.
Philip Skinner (Sharpless) was strong, sounding completely in command of his voice and acting. As Pinkerton, Christopher Bengochea was slightly tentative in Act I, his voice sounded pretty at certain points, and strained in others. He sounded better in Act III, especially at the end. In the title role, Teresa Eickel looked young and vulnerable, and sounded robust. Her voice is penetrating, and was somewhat shrill in Act I. Her "Un bel dì" was vocally effective, though she checked to see that the fan in her belt was secure more than once as she sang.
The costumes were incoherent and distracting. The chorus looked like goths at Ren Faire, since they all had black hair, heavy makeup, and elaborately gathered skirts. The costume that Kurt Krikorian (Prince Yamadori) was so puzzling it was difficult to assess his voice. It looked like he forgot to wear part of his costume, or that his attire was inspired by burlesque belly dancers. Andrew Whitfield, likewise, was dressed rather oddly for Goro, and seemed to have wandered in from Dickens Fair. The set, in contrast, was clean and simple, consisting of a few different levels and large screens. Shadows play was used during the overtures and other opportune moments. Sometimes this worked, and was even beautiful, but at other times the effect was grotesque rather than elegant.
* Tattling *
Some kind friends were generous enough to have given me tickets for this performance, and Herr Feldheim indulgently accompanied me. There was some talking from the audience, but no electronic noise. The person behind me in Row J Seat 112 of the orchestra snapped her gum during much of Acts II and III, but was mercifully quiet during the big numbers, including the Humming Chorus.
A stage hand came in in the two-minute pause between the last two acts and placed a cushion on the stage, pulling us out of the opera just for that moment.
* Notes *
A revival of Madama Butterfly closes San Diego Opera's 2009 season. Musically, the opening last night was very strong. Edoardo Müller roused a vigorous performance from the orchestra, the tempi were never sluggish, but never overly taxing either. The chorus was together and created a straightforwardly lucid sound.
The principals were also quite even. Tenor Joseph Hu had just the right amount of simpering and unctuousness to suit the role of Goro. Suzanna Guzmán rushed in her vocal entrance as Suzuki, but was impressively ferocious later on. Malcolm MacKenzie had warmth and heft in his sympathetic portrayal of Sharpless, but did not overwhelm Carlo Ventre as Pinkerton. Ventre is not exactly the brash embodiment of an American naval officer circa 1904, but he sang well. There was some constriction in his higher register, but his appealingly reedy voice did cut through the orchestration and even sparkled at times. His duet, with Patricia Racette in the title role, at the end of Act I was particularly lovely. Racette's performance was consistent, though she started off with much vibrato, is occasionally shrill. Her pianissimo can be sublime and her "Un bel dì" was magnificent.
On the other hand, Francesca Zambello's production, directed here by Garnett Bruce, was fairly incoherent. Often scenes were set in the American consulate, rather than the "casetta" of the libretto. Even with my poor Italian, it was surreal to hear text so at odds with the scenery. This was especially strange for the first scene of Act II, when Sharpless is dismissed by Butterfly, but it is she that has come to the consulate. However, there was never a dull moment and Michael Yeargan's airy set was attractive. Anita Yavich's costumes suited the production, the turquoise haori worn by Butterfly over her Western dress in Act II was rather eye-catching. In the end, Alan Burrett's lighting did unify the production, and the last scene is striking.
* Tattling *
At least 3 watch alarms were heard at 9pm, though no cellular phones rang. There was very little talking, and this was restricted to the instrumental segments.
The hall looked quite full, and there seemed to be a few issues at the box office, as far as tickets purchased online not showing up at will call.
October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo
Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.
September 13 2008- July 2 2009: Turandot
September 14 2008- March 22 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
September 15-27 2008: Rigoletto
September 20 2008: L'Amico Fritz
September 21 2008- May 2 2009: Die Zauberflöte
September 30- October 8 2008: Pique Dame
October 1-5 2008: The Nose
October 2-7 2008: Chowanschtschina
October 3 2008 - February 15 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
October 22-31 2008: Manon Lescaut
October 30- November 6 2008: Lohengrin
November 20 2008- May 8 2009: La Traviata
November 28 2008- April 12 2009: Aida
November 30 2008- May 31 2009: Tannhäuser
December 8 2008- February 12 2009: Daphne
December 13 2008- March 11 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
December 14-28 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- January 9 2009: Cunning Little Vixen
December 18 2008- January 4 2009: La Bohème
January 7- June 24 2009: Tosca
January 18- February 14 2009: Die Ägyptische Helena
January 25- February 10 2009: Salome
January 28- February 13 2009: Cassandra / Elektra
February 8-27 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
March 8- July 3 2009: Carmen
March 13- April 25 2009: Un Ballo in Maschera
March 26- April 4 2009: Andrea Chenier
April 9-24 2009: Marie Victoire
April 30- May 9 2009: Eugene Onegin
May 20- June 2 2009: La Cenerentola
May 26- June 18 2009: Der Freischütz
May 27- June 6 2009: Madama Butterfly
June 10-21 2009: Tristan und Isolde
June 17-25 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 26- July 4 2009: Tiefland
Valery Gergiev conducts Pique Dame, The Nose, Chowanschtschina. Bo Skovhus sings the title role of Eugene Onegin. Roberto Alagna sings Fritz in L'Amico Fritz, with Angela Gheorghiu as Suzel. Gheorghiu returns in May for La Traviata, and in June for Tosca. Angelika Kirchschlager sings the title role of Carmen and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Nancy Gustafson sings the Feldmarschallin in the latter, but only in December. Mariusz Kwiecien sings in the March performances of Lucia, opposite of Burcu Uyar and Elena Mosuc, who share the title role with Ruth Ann Swenson.
September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger
Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.
September 20- October 28 2008: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci
September 22- October 10 2008: The Barber of Seville
October 10- November 12 2008: Partenope
October 22- November 22 2008: Aida
November 10- December 1 2008: Boris Godunov
November 27-30 2008: Riders to the Sea
June 12- July 10 2009: Madam Butterfly
Rosemary Joshua sings the title role of Partenope at English National Opera next season.
September 22 2008: Gala
September 23- October 16 2008: Salome
September 24- October 9 2008: La Gioconda
September 27-December 19 2008: Don Giovanni
October 3-25 2008: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 13- November 13 2008: Doctor Atomic
October 20- November 20 2008: La Traviata
October 24- November 22 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 7- December 4 2008: La Damnation de Faust
November 21- December 13 2008: The Queen of Spades
November 28- December 20 2008: Tristan und Isolde
December 8 2008- January 8 2009: Thaïs
December 15 2008- January 10 2009: La Bohème
December 22 2008- January 1 2009: Die Zauberflöte
December 31 2008- February 26 2009: La Rondine
January 9-31 2009: Orfeo ed Euridice
January 24- February 12 2009: Rigoletto
January 26- February 7 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 30- February 21 2009: Eugene Onegin
February 6-28 2009: Adriana Lecouvreur
February 16- May 8 2009: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 7 2009: Madama Butterfly
March 2- April 3 2009: La Sonnambula
March 9-21 2009: Rusalka
March 19- April 10 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 25- May 4 2009: Das Rheingold
March 31- April 22 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
April 1-17 2009: Rigoletto
April 6- May 5 2009: Die Walküre
April 13-24 2009: Don Giovanni
April 18- May 7 2009: Siegfried
April 25- May 9 2009: Götterdämmerung
May 1-9 2009: La Cenerentola
The Met's 125th season includes 6 new productions and 22 revivals. Susan Graham is singing Marguerite and Don Elvira. Karita Mattila sings Tatiana and Salomé. Juha Uusitalo has his Met debut as Jokanaan in Salomé. Deborah Voigt stars in the title role of La Gioconda with Ewa Podleś as La Cieca, and Olga Borodina as Laura Badoero. Thomas Hampson is Athanaël in Thaïs, opposite of Renée Fleming, and Onegin, opposite of Mattila as aforementioned. Fleming also sings the title role in Rusalka. Anna Netrebko will sing Mimi and share the role of Lucia with Diana Damrau. Netrebko's Edgardo is, of course, Rolando Villazón. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna (Giuseppe Filianoti in February performances) sing in La Rondine, the production is the same one that was seen in San Francisco last Fall and which will be broadcast this weekend. Gheorghiu stars in L'Elisir opposite of Rolando Villazón. Alagna also appears in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. John Relyea is in two productions, La Damnation de Faust and La Cenerentola. René Pape sings Hunding and Fasolt in the Ring and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. Daniel Barenboim is making his Met debut conducting Tristan.
McVicar's Il Trovatore is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. The Met performances feature Salvatore Licitra, along with Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the first performances, and then Marco Berti, Hasmik Papian, Luciana D'Intino, and Željko Lučić.
I am most likely to see Orfeo ed Euridice, the Mark Morris production was my very first opera when it was performed in Berkeley several years ago. I am disappointed to not see Ruth Ann Swenson or Andreas Scholl in this lineup for the next season.