~By Lynne Gray, PhD~
Friday, April 17
Viewers’ Choice: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly 2Hrs and 26Mins
Starring Patricia Racette, Marcello Giordani, Maria Zifchak and Dwayne Croft, conducted by Patrick Summers. From March 7, 2009.
Anthony Minghella’s stunningly gorgeous production of Puccini’s opera has held up wonderfully at the Met for over 11 years and is still going strong (with many new casts) on the live stage today. Patricia Racette is one of my favorite Cio-Cio-Sans, the trusting and innocent young geisha, who falls in love with American Navy lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton (Marcello Giordani). Maria Zifchak is extraordinary as her loyal servant Suzuki, and Dwayne Croft is perfect as Sharpless, the sympathetic American consul who does all he can but, in the end, is unable to avert the tragedy.
This production also treats us to the incredible art of Bunraku puppetry. Used in serious Japanese traditional plays often dealing with the conflict between frail human desires and societal obligations – these puppets are amazingly moving. They do not have strings, but rather are each ‘worked’ by three highly skilled puppeteers, who must train for many years, each one controlling a specific body part. The puppeteers are unobtrusive, dressed all in black with black veils over their faces, and after the initial novelty, you really don’t notice them!
As most of you know, this is the story of a 15 year old geisha who falls desperately in love with (and marries against the wishes of her uncle) an American sailor whom we have just seen brag about having a girl in every port and dreaming of a “real American bride.” The wedding scene is gorgeous, but marred when Butterfly is cursed by her uncle, the Bonze. Pinkerton finally succeeds in taking her mind away from her family and their wedding night duet is without doubt one of the most beautiful in all opera.
It’s all downhill from there, however. By the second act Pinkerton has been gone for three years, Cio Cio San and her loyal servant Suzuki are down to their last few coins. Butterfly sings her famous aria “Un bel di” still expressing her love and her certainty that one beautiful day – he will return. Sharpless, the American Consul, brings a letter which he hopelessly tries to read to her and when he finally asks Butterfly what she would do if she knew Pinkerton was never returning, the (honor-saving) answer is clear. Before he leaves, however, he is introduced to her child, Trouble (although she tells Sharpless his name is Sorrow until his father returns, and then it will be Joy). By this time I am weeping buckets and barely able to see the beautiful Flower Duet as Cio Cio San and Suzuki fill the house with blossoms because they have spotted Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Then comes the haunting Humming Chorus as the little trio begins its all-night vigil in the vain hope that Pinkerton will come.
Butterfly’s slow discovery that Pinkerton has indeed returned – but with his American wife who now wants to take and raise her child – is more pain than can possibly be bourn, and Butterfly chooses instead to die with honor.
You should not miss this one – it is truly special, astoundingly beautiful and added to the list because of overwhelming popular request.
1. Anthony Minghella’s production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
2. The wedding scene with Patricia Racette, Marcello Giordani, Maria Zifchak and Dwayne Croft in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
3. Patricia Racette as Cio Cio San and Marcello Giordani as Pinkerton (with Bunraku lanterns, blossoms and stars) in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… (Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera).
4. The bunraku puppet, Trouble, in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
5. Patricia Racette as Cio Cio San and a bunraku puppet as her son Trouble in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… (Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera).
6. Patricia Racette as Cio Cio San in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… (Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera).