Thursday, June 16, 2011

Madama Butterfly

The Metropolitan Opera is milking their HD video simulcasts for all their worth and I say, Hurray! They not only show a true simulcast as the opera is being performed, they allow the theatres to show the video the next day and now they are doing a "summer season" of repeats. I'm not sure if this is consistent across the country [or even the world] but here a six-opera "season" has just begun with a different opera each Wednesday afternoon for the next six weeks. They cost less than the original showings which is nice. Obviously, with a 1:00 p.m. time they are geared to retirees, and, in the case of Cape Cod possible vacationers on days when weather keeps them off the beach.

Yesterday's audience was sizable. I had not seen the Madama Butterfly in the fall of '09 but read of the innovative production. It's not a favorite opera of mine. I cannot think of it without thinking of the first production I ever saw, way back when I was a new bride traveling in Europe on the cheap but had reached Vienna where we could stay with a brother-in-law and thus our tight budget allowed opera tickets. Butterfly was played by an Italian soprano as wide as she was tall and Pinkerton was a husky German tenor. I have seen two or three other productions since but quite a while ago -- in fact, before the subtitle era.

This was a revelation first of all because the subtitles showed me that the book/lyrics was very modern. Consul Sharpless tries vainly to stop Pinkerton's free and easy girl-in-every-port ways. Secondly, the leads were wonderful singers but the soprano was definitely neither Japanese nor 15 years old. She was a good actress which, with the music, made the suspension of disbelief possible. Pinkerton was a bit too old and definitely reminded me of some of the well known men currently in the news for their sexual exploitation of women.

The production used several spectacular innovations, including a puppet for the child. Three people in black handled the appealing puppet. They were always visible but the wonder of theatre's magic is that we in the audience see and know the artifice and enjoy the creativity of it. I was so caught up in the story, music and Butterfly's acting that I cried through the end of Act II and much of Act III.

There is considerable discussion among opera critics and lovers about whether these video-ed productions will bring new audiences and whether it's detrimental to opera stars to be expected to act and look the part. Anatomy is important for the operatic voice and for the ability to project those wonderful voices into a huge auditorium. My own feeling, as someone who came to opera entirely through radio broadcasts, is that the more I see these videos, the more I love the grand operas and smile at but tend to dismiss the ligther confections like many Rossini operas. I understand all the concern about younger audiences but many arts continue to exist for the few -- poetry hasn't died nor have Shakespeare and Chekov, string quartets remain -- the House of Windsor an the Dalai Lama remain. Hurray!

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