Madama Butterfly

Lyric Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.

Press Release [PDF] | Lyric Opera Site

Opera Colorado's 2008-2009 Season

November 8-16 2008: Madama Butterfly
February 14-20 2008:
Les Pêcheurs de Perles
April 25- May 3 2009: Così fan Tutte

Opera Colorado opens next season with San Francisco Opera's production of Madama Butterfly. Former Adler and Sri Lankan American Sean Panikkar sings Nadir in Les Pêcheurs de Perles. This production is the San Diego one that has been making the rounds.

Press Release | Daily Camera Article

Dallas Opera's 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Seasons

November 14-22 2008: Le Nozze Di Figaro
December 5-13 2008: Die Fledermaus
January 23-21 2009: Roberto Devereux
February 13-21 2009: La Bohème
March 6-14 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri

James Valenti is having his Dallas Opera debut as Rodolfo. William Burden is singing Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, in the production San Francisco Opera audiences saw in 2005, directed by Chris Alexander. The Fledermaus production from Seattle Opera, last performed there in 2006, was also produced by Alexander.

The 2009-2010 season was announced today:

October 2009: Otello
February 2010: Così fan tutte
February/March 2010: Don Pasquale
Late April 2010: Moby-Dick
May 2010: Madama Butterfly

The new Winspear Opera House will be open by then. Most interesting in this inaugural season is the world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, conducted by Patrick Summers and starring Ben Heppner. The work is a co-commission and co-production with San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, and Calgary Opera.

Press Release [PDF]

End of 2007 Tattling

SfoperafirealarmSomeone one pulled a fire alarm just a few minutes before yesterday's performance of The Rake's Progress was to begin, so we all had to file out and everything started half an hour late. This hasn't happened in awhile, but I remember a rash of fire alarm pulling in 2005. Later, everyone laughed at the recorded message reminding us to locate the nearest exit in case of an emergency. The cast still sounded very good, despite the delay.

Today standing room was quite full for Racette's last performance of Madama Butterfly this season. Before the performance, David Gockley came on stage, and reassured us everyone would still be singing. He lead us in applause, recorded for a possible DVD or some such thing. He used the word vociferous more than once. I don't think I can convey how absurd this was. The performance itself was strong, and I was able to appreciate Racette and Jovanovich more, having seen the second cast.

There were signs that informed the audience the would be recorded, the language used was really quite amusing, and thankfully I got a photograph of it. I especially like the sentence "By attending this event, you are consenting and hereby grant permission to San Francisco Opera or its designees, and its employees, successors, and assignees, licensees and agents to utilize your appearance, image, voice, and likeness, in perpetuity, in any and all manner and form and format of media throughout the world, now known or hereafter devised, including but not limited to recordings, broadcasts, or webcasts of the event you are attending."


Madama Butterfly Alternate Cast

Butterflycostume* Notes *
The alternate cast of Madama Butterfly performed the first of two performances at San Francisco Opera yesterday evening. Julian Smith did not take the tempi as fast as Runnicles, and though the orchestra was together, some of the woodwinds and horns did not sound their best. I believe the oboe sounded especially strange at the end of Act I, before the love duet, as Butterfly is undressing.

Marie Plette started off with lots of vibrato, and I was afraid I would be wincing for the rest of the evening, but once she warmed up, she sounded quite pretty. I remembered, when I read the program, that I did not like her in Seattle's latest Don Giovanni, but as Butterfly she was good. Her characterization of Butterfly certainly is different than Racette's, Plette is sweeter and more doll-like, she has more delicacy. Plette also has better posture. James Valenti was not as strong as Jovanovich in the role of Pinkerton. Vocally he was, at times, overwhelmed by both the orchestra and by Plette. His voice certainly is lovely, just a tad quiet. Valenti came off as milder in his acting as well, his movements were not as confident or boorish as they could have been. He was plaintive in his last appearance in Act II.

This particular production reads well in the back of the balcony, there were no times when I felt that OperaVision was revealing something I would have completely missed had it not been there. It was easier to appreciate how well Stephen Strawbridge's lighting design worked from further away. This time I also noticed that Butterfly's headdress is different than in 2006, instead of a circle of cloth, it is a drape of flowers.

* Tattling *
The house was not entirely full, though standing room was fairly crowded. I got to the box office a few minutes after 10 am, and was 22nd in line. I was able to stand behind an empty seat for the whole performance. There were quite a few latecomers that talked during the music in Act I, but by Act II the stragglers were comfortably in their seats. The applause was good and there were definitely sniffles, though Plette did not get a standing ovation in the balcony.

I was in my usual spot in the North Box Bar, having a champagne and strawberry dinner before the performance, and I left a bit early to go all the way to the top, intending to return at intermission. Apparently someone took the bottle of champagne to another table and started drinking it out of a water glass, and my server had to shoo him away. Hilarious! I do feel bad for the server though, it is no fun to have to ask people to behave themselves.

In that vein, my credit card was found yesterday, and I received a call about it in the afternoon, after I had retrieved my standing room ticket in the morning and returned to work in the East Bay. Unfortunate, given that I do not have time to get to the city early today, and they are not open on the week end. However, I am quite glad it has been found.

As an entertaining aside, I noticed quite a few women wearing Chinese or Japanese-inspired clothing to Madama Butterfly, including one person in a kimono and obi. I'm hardly one to judge appropriate attire, given that my main purpose in dressing up is to look as ridiculous as possible. However, I do find it odd that one would wish to dress up in the costumes of the culture being appropriated on stage. I don't think it is wrong, I just don't get it. The whole premise of Madama Butterfly makes me uncomfortable, so that certainly has something to do with it. Maybe next time Die Entführung comes to town I shall attend wearing a fez with my Turkish costume.

Opening of Madama Butterfly

Act I, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Yet another revival of Madama Butterfly opened today at San Francisco Opera. When I heard this opera was added to the season, I wondered if I would avoid it. I was pretty bored by it already the last time it was here in the summer of 2006, despite not having seen it for 9 years. Puccini generally is too mawkish for me, and Butterfly especially so. Additionally, I am indifferent to Patricia Racette, despite her personal beauty, fine acting, and strong voice. Nonetheless I found myself first in the standing room line this morning, for completeness sake, as a certain Prussian opera-goer I know would say.

The orchestra sounded quite fine, Runnicles took the tempi fast from the start. Racette was lovely, though at times her vibrato makes me feel uneasy. Her shoulders were slightly slumped, but otherwise her performance was splendid. Brandon Jovanovich had a promising debut as Pinkerton, he was suitably brash and vulgar in Act I, and remorse was certainly heard in Act II.  Stephen Powell (Sharpless) played well off of Jovanovich, exuding avuncular kindness. I've never heard anyone besides Zheng Cao as Suzuki, and she was as I remembered, warm and sympathetic.

The opera talk was unusual, as Rose Theresa discussed the Japanese melodies used by Puccini, and even used some koto music as her first example.

* Tattling *
The house looked quite full, and there were at least 50 people in line for standing room when we filed in at 10:50 am. Before the performance began, I was admonished for taking up too much room and was told I could not stand with both my elbows on the railing. This was pantomimed for me by a woman who wanted to squeeze in with her husband next to another couple next to me. It was strangely combative, considering I was perfectly willing to move. It turns out it didn't matter, one of the people next to me got a seat.

At intermission an usher told me I must really like opera, because she sees me so often. She also informed me that my outfits are entertaining, and asked if I was a designer.

There was a fit of loud beeping from the back of the orchestra section during the humming chorus. There was much sniffling for Butterfly, though I cannot say I was among those so moved. At the end Racette received a standing ovation, and a few audience members mockingly booed Kate and Pinkerton.

Milk-Punch, o Wisky?

Madamabutterfly1A 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.

Act I
E ci avete sorelle?
Non signore. Ho la mamma.

Quant' anni avete?
Quindici netti, netti;
sono vecchia diggià.
Quindici anni!

Act II
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.