Friday, June 04, 2010

Opera Note: Cio-cio San as Medea

I'm on a kludgy connection this morning but I'm going to try anyway, so as to record a note about the best Madama Butterfly I've ever seen--this one, at, of all places, the Opera Narodowa at Warsaw. Well: the singing was adequate to very good and the orchestra was undisciplined. But the production--ah, the production! This was the first Butterfly I've ever seen where Cio-Cio San achieves something close to tragic dignity, as distinct from ordinary pathos. This Cio-Cio San is no passive recipient of her fate. She is a person of self-worth and great natural dignity and if she's going to go, she intends to go out in style. This is a Cio-Cio San who echoes Medea, so closely you half-expect her to set the little boy on fire.

Beyond Butterfly herself, the staging has a thousand resonances, and most of them work, There's more than a bit of Stravinsky here, and a large dose of Japanese noh theatre--or is it Gilbert & Sullivan? Ot Topsy Turvy? There are also a few misfires: the second act sets are littered with Chinese characters, as if these westerners can't tell these orientals apart ("it means death," the Chinese lady next to me whispered, speaking of the austere ideogram that glowered over the proceedings below). Pinkerton's wife comes in dressed, to all appearances, as a beekeeper, but the distraction was momentary.

Still, the fact is that in most Butterflys, you just want to pick the poor girl up and shake her and tell her to stop being such a doormat. This is is the only one I've ever seen where she makes a grand entrance on shipboard, like Cleopatra on her barge.

I didn't have a program and I haven't (yet) done the requisite Googling, so I really don't know a lot about either provenance or casting, Best I call tell, this production must be the one created by Mariusz TreliƄski and Krzysztof Warlikowski; it has also played St. Petersburg and Washington (and elsewhere?) Whatever: it's a compelling rendition, sufficient to wipe out the stain of a dozen inferior interpretations including, I suspect, the one intended by Puccini himself.

Here's an interview with the director on Butterfly. Here's a review of the DC production.

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