This is my year for Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. My home company, San Diego Opera, is staging it, commencing April 16th, with Latonia Moore in the title role, the Metropolitan Opera is broadcasting it in HD to movie theaters on April 2nd with Kristine Opolais, and we just got back from attending the opening night (April 12th) Los Angeles Opera Butterfly with Ana Maria Martinez.
Because San Diego Opera was staging Butterfly, I normally would not have chosen to buy tickets for an LA performance, but I had to buy tickets for at least three operas to get whatever advantage there is in being a season ticket holder, and I had heard good things about Ana Maria Martinez, so Butterfly was one of my choices, the others being Moby Dick and Norma. I am glad I made that choice.
The role of Cio-Cio-San, aka Madama Butterfly, dominates this opera. Pinkerton does not appear in Act II, and only briefly in the Third Act (or second part of the Second Act as presented in LA). Therefore, it is vitally important for the success of this opera to have an excellent Cio-Cio-San, and in Ana Maria Martinez, we had one. She sings with a large rich voice that has no problem in surmounting the Puccini orchestration and she acted well both physically and with her voice. She was a strong and determined Butterfly, if ultimately devastated by Pinkerton’s desertion. I had to hold back tears at the end.
Stefano Secco, as Pinkerton, sang ardently and beautifully; however, if looks are important to you, you may find him a bit overshadowed, (he is shorter and chubbier), by the tall and slender Martinez. Nevertheless, the very beautiful love duet, accompanied by the LA Opera orchestra, under James Conlon, was convincing. I was also very impressed by the Suzuki of Milena Kitic, who was quite moving in her own right, and projected a large, well-produced mezzo-soprano. Keith Jameson was an appropriately sleazy Goro, and Kihun Yoon a sympathetic Sharpless, the always-ignored voice of reason.
The sets originated in Santa Fe, but of course, were altered since the Santa Fe stage has no back to it. Mainly, the set consisted of a Japanese house with the usual sliding doors that rotated on the stage when appropriate. Appropriate stormy looking clouds filled the background in Act I, and in Act II, electric lines and poles were added, partly to show the advance of time and partly to show the modernization of Japan in that era. Cio-Cio-San dressed in traditional Japanese clothes in Act I, in Act II, she was dressed in 1890’s American attire and made a somewhat comic, but moving, attempt at acting American when Sharpless appears. A large American flag hung in the back of the house.
The role of her son by Pinkerton was very well played by the five-year old (he looked three years old) Nicholas Cuenca Terry, who was given more business than usual. He wore of brown wig, and the lines about his “blond hair,” which, given genetics, never made sense anyway, are changed to “soft hair.”
I can say, therefore, that even though I have seen many performances of Madama Butterfly, I am happy that I attended this one. I guess I am an “Old Softy,” but this opera moves me when done well. I am looking forward to attending the San Diego Opera opening night performance with Latonia Moore, who received good notices for her recent substitute appearance in the role at the Met.