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Maria Agresta’s Cio-Cio-San reaches nice emotional heights in an evocative Madama Butterfly revival – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Soloists, Refrain and Orchestra of the Royal Opera Home / Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Recorded (directed by Rhodri Huw) on the Royal Opera Home, Covent Backyard, on 27.9.2022 and proven on the Everyman Cinema, Chelmsford, Essex, 3.10.2022. (JPr)

Christine Rice (Suzuki) and Maria Agresta (Butterfly) © Tristram Kenton

Manufacturing:
Administrators – Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier
Revival director – Daisy Evans
Set designer – Christian Fenouillat
Costume designer – Agostino Cavalca
Lighting designer – Christophe Forey
Refrain director – William Spaulding

Forged:
Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton – Joshua Guerrero
Goro – Carlo Bosi
Suzuki – Christine Rice
Sharpless – Carlos Álvarez
Cio-Cio-San – Maria Agresta
Imperial Commissioner – Dawid Kimberg
Official Registrar -Lee Hickenbottom
Cio-Cio-San’s Mom – Eryl Royle
Uncle Yakusidé – Andrew O’Connor
Cousin – Amy Catt
Aunt – Elizabeth Weisberg
Bonze – Jeremy White
Dolore – Leo Stokkland-Baker
Prince Yamadori – Josef Jeongmeen Ahn
Kate Pinkerton – Gabriele Kupšyte

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly has come below the highlight in recent times due to its racial stereotypes. Whereas that’s undoubtedly true, of equal concern needs to be its suggestion of paedophilia (at one level Butterfly sings, ‘love me just a bit, such as you would a baby’) in addition to the ‘celebration’ – nevertheless ironic Puccini might need been – of the perceived greatness of America. Sadly, we’re caught in a time warp and the work is what it’s and of the time it was written.

Covent Backyard has revived Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2003 manufacturing with its ‘conventional’ designs from Christian Fenouillat (units) and Agostino Cavalca (costumes). It returned earlier this yr after a year-long session with Asian representatives, lecturers and performers (amongst others) on learn how to do extra justice to Japanese tradition. Dr Satona Suzuki (lecturer in Japanese and Fashionable Japanese Historical past at SOAS College of London) defined that their transient was to look at hair and make-up, costume, motion and mannerism. Motion director Sonoko Kaminura was introduced in to educate the performers in learn how to transfer like a Japanese particular person of the time. As revived by Daisy Evans we’re left with a respectful, pared again staging, although on this event with just one principal singer concerned who could possibly be described as having the ‘applicable ancestry’. I’m not certain whether or not this might be allowed in straight theatre, or maybe if we may ever see the musical Miss Saigon – which after all owes a lot to Madama Butterfly – with a non-Asian within the lead?

The central function of any ‘conventional’ Madama Butterfly have to be a Japanese dwelling with skinny paper partitions consisting of sliding panels. That is both represented absolutely or hinted at. Right here we’ve got all of the ‘motion’ contained inside three partitions with panels on the again which for novelty largely go up and down and solely often backwards and forwards. By the lifting panels we see Nagasaki harbour, hills with cherry blossom and the suggestion of a backyard. That is about all we’ve got to take a look at other than a moonlit scene with an array of stars and the blossom proven poignantly falling to the bottom because the opera reaches its tragic finish. The translucent partitions enable for some intriguing shadow play, most notably with the primary look of Kate Pinkerton (Gabriele Kupšyte) through the third act.

Greater than ever earlier than what we noticed appeared a memory of a historic taking place, it was fairly evocative and labored notably nicely on display. I can solely reward Rhodri Huw’s camerawork which enveloped the cinema viewers within the unfolding tragedy. The austerity of the setting and all of the close-ups threw all of the work on to the principals and the music. This revival benefited from its solid of completed singing-actors. With the digital camera focussing on faces we see how Joshua Guerrero’s Pinkerton is disdainful of the Japanese and clearly reveals he’s within the 15-year-old Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San) for one factor solely; while Maria Agresta’s Butterfly naively believes in a contented ever after. There may be some restraint within the ardour throughout Act I, regardless of Pinkerton’s lust being apparent and greater than a little bit disturbing. For that notorious phrase about being cherished like a baby, Butterfly sensuously reveals a naked shoulder and Pinkerton’s passion for her on the finish of Act I is depicted by only a loosening of the highest button of his tunic as she lies enticingly on the ground.

Joshua Guerrero (Pinkerton) and Maria Agresta (Butterfly) © Tristram Kenton

In marrying Pinkerton, she has renounced her faith and been disowned by her household and the deluded Butterfly endures penury anticipating him to return to her as he stated he would. Solely when realisation dawns (actually within the opera) does she commit hara-kiri along with her father’s knife whereas her blindfolded angelic, fair-haired youngster (the splendidly stony-faced Leo Stokkland-Baker) pitifully waves his small American flag as Pinkerton sings offstage. His mom rises one final time to flap her arms and hauntingly expire like a ‘actual’ Butterfly centre stage as Pinkerton doesn’t get there in time.

Carlos Álvarez was a bluff, weary, and sympathetic Sharpless who clearly loathes his complicity in Pinkerton’s antics. Carlo Bosi was glorious as soon as once more because the handwringing, wheedling and conniving marriage dealer, Goro. The veteran Jeremy White additionally returned because the Bonze and balefully denounced Butterfly within the first act. There was a compelling vignette from Josef Jeongmeen Ahn because the dignified and love-struck Prince Yamadori who’s prepared to ‘save’ Butterfly. Christine Rice was an distinctive Suzuki and her vibrantly wealthy tones made essentially the most of even one thing as small as her Act I night prayer. Her Suzuki was intensely loyal and clearly very keen on Butterfly, embracing considerably her self-delusion that issues will finish fortunately now Pinkerton’s ship has been sighted finally.

As Pinkerton, Joshua Guerrero sang a robustly full-throated, ringing account of the thankless function. Singing largely forte he additionally confirmed he’s able to a lot finesse when needed, reminiscent of within the climactic Act I duet ‘Bimba, Bimba, non piangere’. Maria Agresta is clearly a formidable Butterfly and ‘Un bel di’ started – as Antonio Pappano as soon as instructed – like smoke rising from Pinkerton’s ship because it approaches the harbour. Agresta put herself by way of the wringer as she metamorphoses from infatuated childlike innocence to ultimately coming to phrases with the truth that she is unable to flee her destiny. While Butterfly’s teenage fragility doesn’t fully persuade in Act I, Agresta reaches nice emotional heights on the finish of the opera as witnessed by the point she took to compose herself throughout her curtain name. Agresta’s voice is gloriously dramatic, with mezzoish tones and a barely steely to the highest.

So far as I may hear from the Everyman Chelmsford’s glorious sound, Nicola Luisotti inspired an impeccable efficiency from these earlier than him within the pit. After lashing into the quick orchestral prelude, collectively they produced a powerful high quality of sound and the hen calls which greeted the daybreak in Act III had been very evocative within the cinema. Luisotti’s consideration to element appeared chic, and he completely deserved the plain assist he elicited from the soloists, refrain and orchestra. There was a beguiling rendition of the ‘Buzzing Refrain’ which was a meditative interlude with simply the suitable whiff of cherry blossom. Luisotti clearly has complete respect for the theatricality of Madama Butterfly, and he created an intense environment stuffed with rigidity and drama.

Every part was just about pretty much as good because it could possibly be, nevertheless regardless of Maria Agresta’s very good efficiency in the end I didn’t discover myself as concerned in Butterfly’s tragic descent as generally I’ve been previously.

Jim Pritchard

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