LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 15.5

Help for OPERA-L Archives

OPERA-L Archives

OPERA-L Archives


Next Message | Previous Message
Next in Topic | Previous in Topic
Next by Same Author | Previous by Same Author
Chronologically | Most Recent First
Proportional Font | Monospaced Font


Join or Leave OPERA-L
Reply | Post New Message
Search Archives

Subject: SFO "Madama Butterfly"
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 13 Nov 2016 13:08:44 -0800

text/plain (27 lines)

“Madama Butterfly” got done to death in San Francisco during the Gockley era and I’m sure I’m not the only one who moaned “Not again” when it showed up on the bill for Matthew Shilvock’s first season as GMD.  Given how heavily the entire opera is centered around the lead soprano, I’ve thought for some time a production is only justified when a truly exceptional interpreter of the role is available (yes, I know, even without that it sells tickets like hot cakes, which is why we see it so often).

Well, we did pretty much get that exceptional performer of Cio-Cio-San in Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian.  It’s a really lovely, clear, steady voice.  She phrases beautifully, sings legato like few around these days and when she lets it out full tilt, her sound strikes sparks and lights Loge’s Magic Fire.  She’s not model slender, but her figure is very credible and her face is lovely - in the Butterfly makeup, her features and expressions are reminiscent of Victoria de los Angeles.  She moves gracefully.  Until the end, she also maintains a childlike innocence and naivité - rather different from Patricia Racette, who let us clearly see the character’s strength and will from the get-go.

Why was I not more overwhelmed?  Am I getting old and jaded and have I just plain seen this opera too often?  Maybe, but I think there are a couple of other factors.  First off, I think was the work of conductor, Yves Abel.  He got lovely sounds from the orchestra and was sensitive to the singers but it was all more than a bit muted and slow and rubber limbed.  His holding back of the percussion and brass seriously muted the impact of that moment of triumph after Butterfly has spotted the ship.  In general, I found  that the music lacked sharpness, profile and dramatic punch.  He was obviously going for languorous, sensual beauty and there were places, both in the duet with Butterfly and Pinkerton and in the Flower Duet where this paid off.  But there was a price in dramatic force.

The abstract set with beautiful and brilliant colors by Jan Kuneko, which also featured the raising and lowering screens for projects such as we saw his “Magic Flute” here, made for a lot of open space on the stage.  The depth of the stage didn’t offer any consistent reflective surfaces to help the voices get out into the hall, which particularly hurt tenor Vincenzo Costanzo.  I think all of that open space could have used considerably sharper and more focused direction than the cast got from Leslie Swackhamer.  There was too much sense of characters meandering about, wringing their hands or making fidgety gestures.

But I think a big part is that lovely, talented Haroutounian suffers a bit from that very unfair and elusive allocation of “stage presence,” that quality that makes the audience unable to take their eyes off her.  She does everything right, but she just doesn’t have quite the charisma of a Racette or Scotto (even in her roly poly days).

Tenor Vincenzo Costanzo is a nice enough looking guy, although he looked more Latin gigolo than hale and hearty American sailor, with a voice of pleasant quality and good range that seemed to get tense and constricted, particularly in the upper register.  Probably much better in a smaller house.  Tall mezzo Zanda Svede, made up to look like something out of the cast of “Cats,” gave us a really beautiful and sumptuous voice as Suzuki.  It was a real treat to hear her and Haroutounian in the Flower Duet.  I really liked baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless.  Beautiful, self contained and fluid baritone sound capable of power and volume.  Credible and touching as a normal Joe guy’s guy who finds himself pulled into a really uncomfortable situation.  Raymond Aceto was powerful and scary as the bonze.  I guess Julie Adams was good as Kate Pinkerton, but no matter how good the singer is, you just want to kick that character clear around the block.

The applause was huge, so I don’t think many in the audience shared my reservations.

Max Paley
OPERA-L on Facebook:
To UNSUBSCRIBE, send a message to [log in to unmask]
containing only the words:  SIGNOFF OPERA-L
To stay subscribed but TURN OFF mail, send a message to
[log in to unmask] containing only the words:  SET OPERA-L NOMAIL
Modify your settings:

Back to: Top of Message | Previous Page | Main OPERA-L Page



CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager