Fathom Events' Met Opera "Butterfly": Taking Flight

Kristine Opolais as "Madama Butterfly"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

It's hard to believe that it's been almost a decade since the Metropolitan Opera's Madama Butterfly production by the late Anthony Minghella first debuted to some serious controversy, primarily centered on the use of a puppet instead of a real boy in the role of Trouble. This concept has since found more favor in operatic circles, having already received an HD broadcast several seasons ago, and took wing once again as part of the HD lineup this season.

This is the familiar tragic story of the innocent and na├»ve Cio-Cio-San (soprano Kristine Opolais), whose name means “butterfly”, wed to the American naval officer Lt. B.F. Pinkerton (tenor Roberto Alagna) for whom the marriage is one of temporary convenience. Butterfly, on the other hand, is quite serious about it, even risking ostracism by her relatives when she converts to Christianity. Pinkerton ultimately returns to America, unaware that she carries his child. Three years pass and she continues to await his return, despite arguments to the contrary from her servant Suzuki (mezzo Maria Zifchak). When Pinkerton's friend Sharpless (baritone Dwayne Croft) arrives with a letter from her husband, he doesn't get to finish reading it since Butterfly becomes ecstatic that Pinkerton is promising to return, though, unbeknownst to her, accompanied by his new American wife, Kate (mezzo Edyta Kulczak). When they both arrive in port, Butterfly finally realizes the truth. But by the time Pinkerton musters enough courage to face her, he is too late. Butterfly has committed harikiri or seppuku, realizing her child will be brought up and cared for by Pinkerton and Kate.

As Directed for the HD Broadcast by Gary Halvorson, with Host Deborah Voigt, this was a thoroughly enjoyable performance. Conducted by Karel Mark Chichon, with the superb Metropolitan Opera Chorus, again under the direction of Chorus Master Donald Palumbo, it was a pleasure to see and hear, thanks to the Direction and Choreography by Carolyn Choa (Minghella's widow), the slidiing screen Set Design by Michael Levine, vivid Costume Design by Han Feng and Lighting Design by Peter Mumford. But any Madama Butterly rises or falls with the skill of the titular soprano, and in Opolais we have a remarkable performer, both as singer and actress; her un bel di was devastating, as was the remainder of the second act. Alagna was very believable as an oblivious young man, and both Croft and Zifchak have inhabited their roles many times, growing ever better at each retelling of this well-known story. As for the idea of Trouble as a puppet, the puppeteers were outstanding but the concept is distracting and sometimes even upstaging.

On the whole, especially with such a competent actress in the lead, this is understandably one of the most popular works on The Met's roster; this Butterfly is truly a keeper.

There will be a repeat HD Broadcast next Wednesday evening April 6th at a theater near you.

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