While I had written a little the other day about the Act I Tech rehearsal I attended of this new Butterfly (for DC), I was really notprepared for the sheer beauty and the overall effect of this magnificent production. It is repeated with several casts (which I posted the other day for 13 more performances over the next two weeks...indeed Act I for Cast II is starting right now!). We will return for the WNO YA performance on May 19th.
On arrival to the Opera House we viewed a curtain with about two dozen spectacular kimonos hung in front. They were of all colors, patterns, stripes, circles, polka dots, etc. These rose to reveal the set as described earlier: a large ramp from lower left front to upper right rear with a small circular raised platform disc at the front right. The flooring had black concentric circles giving a vortex feeling which was mimicked later in the projections of Act II/III (which were combined as is now more common)
The Japanese Noh characters were in all back with baglike head coverings and they helped along the story by handing props and taking them away which was okay.
Cio-Cio-San:Ermonela Jaho *
Pinkerton:Brian Jagde *
Sharpless:Troy Cook *
Suzuki:Kristen Choi *
Goro: Ian McEuen
The Bonze: Timothy J. Bruno ‡
Yamadori: Michael Adams ‡
Kate Pinkerton: Allegra De Vita ‡
Commissioner: Andrew Bogard ‡
Registrar: James Shaffran
Conductor: Philippe Auguin
Director: Leslie Swackhamer *
Production Designer: Jun Kaneko
Lighting Designer: Gary Marder *
Choreographer: Adam Noble *
Hair and Makeup Designer: Anne Ford-Coates for Elsen Associates
Assistant Director: Cindy C. Oxberry
Stage Manager: Lynn Krynicki
‡Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist
The costumes were all magnificent, so colorful and bright with Pinkerton in white pants and jacket but lapels of black and blue with a large red/orange pocket patch on one side. Ms. Choi's Suzuki was almost impertinent to him at first, sensing he would be trouble, but Mr. McEuen's Goro slapped his huge black fan shut casting her away with a huge noise. His portrayal of this role is so excellent, I could only wish he had more to sing.
"Dovunque il mondo" had me with chills up and down my spine with Mr. Jage's huge impressive tenor filling the house. "America forever" from him and Mr. Cook was a tenor/baritone wake up call for anyone who might have impossibly fallen asleep. Quelle voce! "Sposa Americana" was even more grand.
As Butterfly entered the stage got darker and the sliding shoji screen atop the round platform moved off to the right. It came back on and off repeatedly for the entire show depending on if the director wanted a more open vastness to the stage, which really worked.
I had just heard an XM Radio Butterfly with Albanese this week and felt that this debuting Albanian soprano, Ms. Jaho, reminded me of her more than say a more dramatic Butterfly such as Scotto. She floated gorgeous high notes for the entire 2-1/2 hours yet maintained a demure petite shy feel throughout. When she chanted "giu," everyone obeyed, even the Consul, which I can't recall seeing before. Everyone is under her spell, and Ms. Swackhamer's direction never let that fail. Pinkerton takes the ottoke and as he calls them puppets throws them in the air to her horror, but she never breaks character to become upset (at least not until she tells the consul to leave in Act II). Her "Nova religion" floated through every inch of the house like a soft breeze.
I loved the way Goro shrugged repeatedly as Pinkerton failed to tip the Commissioner and Registrar.
The Bonze's entry was also a tour de force. Mr. Bruno with his stentorian bass, who is tall to begin with, was barefoot and all in white save for a black mask and tall hat. Two cohorts (I found out later these were women) accompanied him carrying a banner of sorts wearing white ovoid face masks with eye cutouts that gave them an almost KKK feel---creeeepy!
As the crowd cleared, a large projection panel lowered almost to the floor on the left side of the stage and red concentric lines began to be drawn on it ever so slowly until it was full and then the lines modulated and undulated and changed colors throughout the final scene for the "Vieni la sera" duet. While she begged Pinkerton to be gentle, at one short point he seemed to become a bit rough, but then backtracked. He took off his jacket to reveal a white shirt with black squares and a plaquette chest (is that the correct word?).
A large orange sun-like moon rose on the projection as the went behind the shoji and became shadows embracing as the curtain fell.
The two singers were simply sublime in this scene, more than anyone could ask and truly perfection in vocal pairing. What luck to have two debuts here in Washington and such successes both!
The kimonos returned after the intermission, but when the curtain rose, at first they stayed blocking the stage for about a minute.
Butterfly was in a grey/green(I am colorblind)/pink robe with a Japanese wraparound black on white polkadot as well as a long sleeve matching. She stood immobile at the side of the platform with a long telescope to her eye. Act II is where we really get to see Suzuki and here Ms. Choi started us off superbly which of course leads ultimately into the crowd pleaser "Un bel di" in which Ms. Jaho exhibited perfect technique and sheer restraint to garner a huge round of applause that seemed not to end.
Two modern chairs and a small table are brought onto the platform and Yamadori enters preceded by three flagbearers; he is in a top hat, spats and the coolest of costumes for Mr. Adams. In the scene where Butterfly imitates an American divorce court judge, her voice went all high and squeaky at one point (think Despina as the Dr. Mesmer) and it got tons of laughs.
I feel so sorry for anyone who has to play Sharpless and attempt to read Pinkerton's letter to Butterfly and attempt to relay the truth; it is truly hard to do in real life and even more difficult to portray, but Mr. Cook was awesome. The little boy comes out in yellow overalls and hat with red shoes, suspenders and a green shirt looking so adorable, and I appreciated the fact the he looked about 3 years old!
Two large projection screens lower again to show the ship (a paper-like cutout 2D version with a big American flag on the back) arrive.
The Flower duet had the women throwing petals everywhere as confetti fell on the projections as the little boy piled up the petals and threw them in the air which was adorable ( and also got some giggles). When Butterfly called for her wedding gown, the black coated Noh guys brought it and dressed her. The shoji returned and now the two large projection screens and shoji all matched with projections as the WNO chorus did a super job on the Humming Chorus. The projections were a mishmash of shapes and colors, and while nice, did not seem to portray and specific meaning. Ultimately it became three images of humans (Butterfly, Suzuki and the child) waiting.
The ship passed through again and we moved directly into the third act.
Between the acts the four black Noh guys could be seen below the projections and this bothered me a lot as they seemed to be cleaning up the scattered petals, or even, at one point, seeming to suck them up like vacuums. I later learned this was typical Noh, but without an explanation it was quite bothersome. As the screens rose, we see Kate at the top of the ramp with an American parasol, so unlike the flat ones used by the geishas in Act I, and a layered black ruffle and white dress with half white/half black top. Pinkerton is now all in white with a black and gray lapel and gray pocket patch; his colors have gone black and white.
I guess I so often miss the wonderful trio that starts us off and then the duet with Suzuki & Pinkerton that makes us truly realize what a jerk he is followed by the melting "Addio fiorito asul..." Suzuki's "Piangera tanto" was gut wrenching.
As Butterfly cries, "Tutto e morto, tutto e finite..." she fell to the floor in a drop that thudded so hard, I thought she had truly died. I can't recall anyone ever doing it so dramatically. She then fell YET again as she confronted Kate, stoically played by Ms. DeVita.
She moves to the platform and the Noh guys bring her the sword while she drops the poppy from her hair ceremoniously into a black bag held by one of them. The shoji moves behind her to block them and she is alone and a small red dot appears on the projection screen above her. It grew and grew to become quite large and actually reminded me of the Japanese flag. The boy runs in wearing an adorable sailor suit of stripes and blue collar as she intones an impressive, "Tu tu piccolo iddio..." She sends him off and as she stabs herself in full view facing us, the now large red dot begins to bleed downwards. We can hear Pinkerton's calls in the distance, but he is very far away, and in this production her never reaches the stage. Instead, Butterfly attempts to rise as her hand shudders above her reaching up and the entire back of the stage is bathed in a red glow.
Just writing this almost brings me to tears re-enacting one of the greatest dramatic moments I can recall in my literally thousands of performances.
This is indeed NOT TO BE MISSED!
ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC
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