Monday, September 25, 2006


...and by that I mean just yes. Yes, you should go. And this despite many reservations, that in the end don't matter. I'd like to state for the record that I'm not an entirely jaded opera-goer. I love the Met most nights, even if the rep is conservative and they don't have a real Puccini soprano or Heldentenor to their name. But I do maintain that it's only every few or several seasons they have a production that comes from that place of absolute artistic certainty, you know the kind I mean? The last one I saw was Wernicke's Frau Ohne Schatten, until tonight. The latest now is very certainly Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly, consistently dazzling and intermittently devastating.

By the way, you know who can really wear a dress? Lee Radziwill! There she was, smoking her cigarette five feet from me. I mean, I wouldn't know her if she bit me, had to ask a paparazzo who the glamor gal was [embarassingly, but not really, I actually asked "Oh is thatLicia Albanese?" because I don't know what she looks like either and she's d'une certaine age and always at stuff.] But that's who it was, sewed into that thing and looking like a million and a half. Ten feet the other direction was Rufus Wainwright, and for fun I imagined he was utterly peeved that the flashbulbs weren't aimed at him. Everyone else was there too, but you've read about it. Kind of exciting. Very buzzy evening.

You're going to have to go, if you can, and you're going to have to do it despite some of the singing. In fact I may just write about that and not ruin any of the visual surprises, which is fine anyway considering my bumbling way with descriptions of the visual. It's pretty late, anyhow. For now: the colors are ravishing, the design is consistent with what I remember of Michael Levine's striking work in Carsen's Onegin, and the way characters make their entrances is quite enthralling. You'll never see a curtain call like this one again. Christina Gallardo-Domas could have sung a thoroughly mediocre Butterfly and gotten a screaming ovation, the way her curtain call is designed/choreographed.

Which is exactly what happened. Do you remember her Met broadcast debut? Because I do, in that way I remember Woody Allen movies from the late 90's and the last couple seasons of Melrose Place and things like that. They happened, and if I thought about it really hard, I could recall a few details beyond being unimpressed. So the question was: why have they picked her for this phenomenally well-hyped season opener in a new Met regime that's going to stir things up or die trying. I don't have an answer. By "tutu, piccolo, idiot" she had warmed up into a kind of plummy sound, and then she disemboweled herself so there wasn't much time to enjoy it. Up to that point, she was tentative and a bit squally with a tendency to lose support at very key moments. Um, yeah, like the last note of The One Aria Everyone Knows. And I guess we all have our unreasonable demands, and I guess one of mine is the c# in Butterfly's entrance. Not there, neither in the house nor in the video they were showing on the Panoperacon in the plaza with all the rehearsal footage. Anyway it kind of drives like a Puccini voice, but without meaning to be nasty, it really isn't one.

God, you know, Butterfly is kind of an awful opera, well not through and through but such banality next to such sublimity. And of corse the libretto, offensive from pretty much every vantage. Hell, even the culinary--do you know what's in milk punch? Half-and-half and bourbon, among other things. Who the hell drinks that? Then the humming chorus starts and I'm like any other sentimentalist, dabbing at my eye with a handkerchief embroidered with the likeness of Toti dal Monte.

New feature: you can get your Met Titles in German. I checked to see if they'd change Pinkerton to Linkerton but I guess that's dated or something. I think I'm putting off talking about Marcello Giordani because someone whose opinions I respect is a big fan and I ear is tuned to find the basic quality of his voice a little tight and strangled. Ok, not a little. The bulk of it is gratifying, though, and he sings with fervor if not with abandon. I guess I don't have a better Butterfly cast in mind and, perhaps more to the point, I don't run an opera house. I'm not 100% clear on where it lies in terms of weight anyway, the role of Pinkerton. I think of it as spinto but I suppose Pavarooty went around singing it and wasn't it the definitively spinto territory of Don Carlo that he wiped out on? Ver. I think I promised way back when not to indulge in all that fach-alchemy. Next topic.

Dwayne Croft had a mixed night of it, if you ask me. I have been quite the fan at times, but the voice lacks a certain core I'm fairly certain it used to have. He had his moments last night, but nothing like the late 90's when there were equal parts ease and virility. Suzuki must be the role the word "thankless" was coined to describe, but Maria Zifchak made the big success, insofar as any Suzuki can. And since I don't care much for Butterfly itself I'm not going to weigh in on Levine's management of it, though it sounded fine and idiomatic to me. Someone else will know. The joy of being a minor opera blogger is you can defer and delegate.

The real hero, other than Meg Ryan of course, for getting into that little black dress, was Anthony Minghella. I'm not kidding, though: if all I can muster for the singing is this resounding "meh," you have to ask yourself why I'm so certain you'd like the production. I really can't imagine you wouldn't. Without a sassy sign-off, I'm just going to leave it there.


Anonymous said...

G-D was the worst-sounding Butterfly of the dozens I have heard. Even the aged Licia, who I saw in the early 60s at the Old House, sang it better.

And the puppet. CHUCKY'S BACK!

Between G-D's monster vibrato and the grotesque child, the evening held no redeeming factor for me.

Maury D'annato said...

anon: seriously, you didn't think it was at least pretty? I'm glad to have some confirmation I wasn't just being cranky with G-D.

Anonymous said...

The production was attractive enough but the puppet killed it. The relationship of mother and child is the real crux of the opera; it is abandoning her child that destroys her. If Pinkerton never came back, she still has the child as a reason to live. Without that, she has nothing. And that relationship was turned into a travesty in this version.

Gallardo sucked; without a good or even acceptable soprano all the pretty Japonalia in the world won't redeem the opera.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I shouldn't open my piehole, not having seen it, but I can't imagine that the puppet was any less unbelievable than the blond-wigged young girls usually playing Trouble.
If they had Kermit the Frog onstage as the child, the music (and a talented Cio-Cio-San) would make me not notice.

I'm with you on the c#. I don't know of anyone who sings/sang it in an actual performance; but I'll always love the Freni recording for that one note. Yes, yes, it was done in a studio, but most of us couldn't do it even with all the digital help available today.

Jonathan said...

See, I liked the puppet. I actually thought the manipulators of said puppet were, in a weird way, able to express more emotion than the often very wooden, nervous little child actors they stick up there. Then again, I generally find puppetry a fairly fascinating form of theater, so I was possibly predisposed to find validity in the choice.

Obviously I agree that Madama Mariposa herself was a total mess--and that the production is under no circumstances to be missed.

Anonymous said...

Having seen about 40 staged BUTTERFLIES over the years, I have never seen the role of Trouble badly performed and certainly the interaction of a live child with his mother, with Sharpless and Suzuki and (depending on the staging) with his father at the final curtain makes for a more intense theatrical experience that an expressionless dummy. This was a gimmick in an otherwise attractive production.

Maury D'annato said...

Aright, I weight in on moppet vs. puppet in a new posting.