Festival Opera's Madama Butterfly
July 11, 2010
* 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.