Upstairs Tenor

Madama Butterfly Live in HD Met Simulcast

This account of the Met simulcast of Madama Butterfly comes from Upstairs Tenor, who is an usher and supernumerary at San Francicsco Opera.

  * Notes * 
Anthony Minghella left us too soon, but his production of Madama Butterfly is, at least, a testament to his memory. Stark and beautifully designed, with incredibly specific and insightful Personregie down to the tiny role of Butterfly's mother, the production is one of the best things the Met has done in years. The much talked about puppet portraying Butterfly's son was wonderfully realistic, though ill-served by close ups that revealed the faces of the puppeteers, usually covered by veils, in HD. Renée Fleming hosted the intermission interviews, and proved herself a competent interviewer.

The reliable Patrick Summers conducted a sensitive, well-thought-out performance, even if the woodwinds were somewhat lacking at several points. The cast was excellent, lead, as it is, by the dream-cast Cio-Cio San of Patricia Racette. Racette, who stepped in at late notice after Cristina Galldro-Domas took ill, is easily the best Butterfly singing today, and the camera caught every nuance, every quirk of the eyebrow and every smile in her expressive face. Her Pinkerton, Marcello Giordani, was a bit shaky in Act I, but much stronger after his hour's rest offstage. Maria Zifchak has been the Met's regular Suzuki for years, and examined up close, now we know why: who knew she was such an exquisite actress? Those were real tears during the Humming Chorus. Dwayne Croft, sounding like a dream, also returned to give an expert Sharpless, keen to every facet of the role. Greg Fedderly appears to have cemented his position as the reigning king of character tenors, and his snide Goro was a treat. Dean Peterson's gravelly-voiced Bonze and the surprisingly sympathetic Yamadori of David Won rounded out the principal cast.

* Tattling * 
There was a small dropout in the feed right in the middle of "Un Bel Di." Thank God it only lasted about two seconds. The audience at Daly City's Century 20 Theaters was quite well-behaved save a few watch alarms, but during the opening of this production, a completely silent dance performed by a Geisha, I heard a cell phone go the Met Audience. That's Technology for you.

Final Dress Rehearsal of Boris Godunov

This account of the final dress of Boris comes from Upstairs Tenor, who is an usher and supernumerary at San Francicsco Opera.

  * Notes * 
After sitting through both the dress rehearsal and premiere, and being lulled nearly to sleep by both, I can say without hesitation that this production of Boris Godunov is one of the dullest I've ever seen, partially due to the very version of the opera performed. I question the choice of the 1869 edition of the opera, without Mussogorsky's effective rewrites. I suspect the choice of edition was due partially to showcase Sam Ramey (who fared significantly better on the dress than he did on opening night, both vocally and dramatically) and partially to spare the expenditure of hiring a mezzo to sing Marina. In any case, the production itself needs a firmer hand at the wheel than Julia Pevzner, who allowed the dramatic tension (of which, when the opera is done right, there is plenty) to lag almost constantly. Reports from friends and involved in the production indicated that the rehearsal period was extremely chaotic, and it showed. The Coronation scene needed to be re-thought entirely, as did the scene between the Tsar's children and the nurse. (I hated the use of the giant map.) On the positive side, the inn scene crackled with energy, and I for one enjoyed the "build-up" of the Simpleton as an observer; He is such an important character that seems to come from nowhere in the opera, having him as a silent observer actually made sense.

I share everyone's enthusiasm for Andrew Bidlack, who I have been impressed with in the past, especially in The Little Prince. His performance was exemplary Vladimir Ognovenko was another obvious standout; his years of experience with the part, which he does often with the Kirov Opera, paid off gloriously. One must credit Vitalij Kowalijow and Vsevolod Grivnov for doing what they could with the dramatically dead Cloister scene, a prime example of what I call "Gurnemanz Syndrome," in which a bass gives exposition for about twenty minutes. Both sang well, Grivnov marking slightly, as did Kenneth Kellogg as the Police Officer. Jack Gorlin, the treble singing Fyodor was amplified unobtrusively on opening night but left to hold his own at the dress, which he was unable to do.

I noticed one change in staging between dress and performance: at the dress, both of Boris' children came onstage to say their farewells, and Xenia (who does not sing in the scene), spent her time onstage quietly sobbing. This was cut on opening night, and only Fyodor was present for his father's last address.

* Tattling * 
I heard a watch alarm or two in the orchestra, but no cell phones went off. That is not to say they weren't on, as a man sitting a few seats down from me kept looking at his messages or getting the time or checking his mail or something. Whatever it was, it was irritating, and no matter how long I gave him a look, he kept doing it. He finally stopped in the middle of Act II, which turned out not to be enthralling enough for a man several rows behind me, who fell asleep and let out a loud snore before being nudged awake by a small girl sitting a seat down from him.

There were plenty of onstage mishaps and errors: a super's hat fell off during the inn scene and the lighting effect for the Simpleton's aria didn't work correctly when one of the floor panels containing light banks didn't pop up in time. To the enjoyment of the entire audience, when Mr. Ramey died with a tremendous fall to the stage, he did not account for the stage's slope and fell too far downstage, and was forced to roll upstage after the music stopped so they could bring down the curtain. During the curtain call, Ognovenko bowed out of costume and Grivnov emerged without his wig.

An error in the program noticed both at dress and performance: Matthew O'Neill plays two roles, Missail and the Boyar-in-attendance, but is only listed as playing Missail.