Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – Music Center, DTLA
By: Sandi Margolis @SandiMargolis
On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, I had the absolute pleasure of attending LA Opera’s 30th Anniversary Season production of Giacomo Puccini’s much beloved “Madame Butterfly.” For those of you who are not familiar with Madame Butterfly, I’d like to set the scene and give you a brief (or not so brief) overview of this cherished Italian tragedy. Set in early 20th Century Nagasaki Japan, it is the ill fated love story of naïve 15 year old geisha Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), who through the marriage broker Goro, is betrothed to Banjamin Franklin Pinkerton, an American naval officer. Butterfly, who is truly in love with Pinkerton, abandons her faith and converts to Christianity the night before the wedding to please her future husband. Pinkerton, on the other hand, gingerly boasts to Sharpless, the American Consul, that he purchased his bride for 100 yen and can leave the marriage at whim. Sharpless implores Pinkerton that his teenage bride might indeed love him but Pinkerton ignores the warning and proceeds to go through with this farce of a wedding. During that meeting, he is also introduced to Suzuki, Butterfly’s trusted and loyal servant.
Butterfly, happy and in love, arrives with friends and family at the small rectangular house rented by Pinkerton for the upcoming nuptials and future wedded bliss. It is at this time that she confides to Pinkerton that she abandoned her own religion the night before in order to prove she would be a dutiful and faithful American wife. During the wedding celebration, Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle, learns of her conversion and calls upon the family to renounce and forsake her. Pinkerton angrily demands that they all leave. Butterfly then professes her undying love for him and the newly married couple moves to the bedroom to consummate the marriage.
Fast forward three years since Pinkerton set sailed for America, the devoted Butterfly eagerly awaits for his return (who is clearly unworthy of her undying loyalty). She assures Suzuki who has faithfully remained by her side that one day his ship will enter the harbor and they will live happily ever after. At 18 years of age, she has matured but has never given up hope even in the face of adversity. She still clings to the fantasy of a happy reunion. She also realizes that she has little money left to survive and to care for her three year old son. The Consul Sharpless upon learning that Pinkerton will arrive in Nagasaki with his new American wife Kate, pleads with Butterfly to marry his rich client, Prince Yamadori. She laughs and insists that she is already married, has a son and wants no part of this new arrangement. She hears the harbor canon and is sure that Pinkerton will arrive momentarily. She awaits all evening with Suzuki and her son. The next morning, Pinkerton still hasn’t returned. Finally, Suzuki awakens to see Sharpless, Pinkerton and the American woman, Kate in the garden. It is then that Pinkerton realizes his dastardly behavior and is remorseful. (It’s a little late, don’t you think?). He can’t bear to confront Butterfly (the coward) and runs away. Butterfly finally emerges out of the house to find Sharpless and this strange woman who explains that she is Pinkerton’s wife and that her son would be better off in America. Betrayed and distraught, she sends them away but tells Sharpless to have Pinkerton pick up the child in a half hour. She retreats to the house and takes out her father’s dagger to commit the ultimate act of honor and sacrifice. She sends her son out to play and commits suicide. You then hear Pinkerton’s voice calling for her, sees her body lying dead on the floor and the curtain falls. A Puccini masterpiece!
Originally designed for and created by the Santa Fe Opera Company, Madame Butterfly made its 2016 LA Opera debut on March 12th 2016 with six performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Downtown LA. This spectacular production is conducted by Maestro James Conlon, Richard Seaver Music Director who made his LA Opera debut in 2006. What makes him so unique is that he “conducts” a pre-performance talk an hour before the scheduled opera. All ticket holders are welcome. He has such a wonderful demeanor which makes the experience all the more enjoyable and worth the price of admission. Madame Butterfly is directed by Lee Blakeley. Most recently he directed “A Little Night Music” (with Leslie Caron, Greta Scacchi and Lambert Wilson) and earlier this season his production of Sweeney Todd, starring Stephanie Blythe, was part of San Francisco Opera’s opening weekend.
Puerto Rican born Soprano Ana Maria Martinez returns to LA Opera as Cio-Cio-San. A Grammy award winner, she has performed the role with acclaim with the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, Munich Opera Festival, Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera. Her glorious lyrical voice transcends one of the most famous arias in opera, “Un Bel di Vedremo,” (“One good day, we will see”), as she lovingly and longingly waits for Pinkerton’s return. I can still feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m very sentimental. What can I say? She has received critical acclaim throughout the opera world. On a side note, on March 11th, 2016, she performed “Ave Maria” and “Pie Jesu-Requiem” at the funeral of former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Simply divine!
Italian Tenor Stefano Secco, in the role of Pinkerton, made his LA Opera debut in 2012 as Gabriele Adorno in “Simon Boccanegra.” He has previously sung the title role with the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago. From his opening duet with Sharpless (movingly portrayed by Korean
Baritone Kihun Yoon in his first leading role), to his love duet with Butterfly (Ana Maria Martinez), Secco’s voice embodied the larger than life character of Pinkerton and the performance was magnificent. You wanted to hate him (he did encourage and receive boos from the audience during the curtain calls) but with his voice, it was hard to do so.
Serbian Mezzo Soprano Milena Kitic as Suzuki, gave a riveting and superb performance who cherished Butterfly and whose sole purpose was to protect her from her own delusional fantasy. She had previously played the role of Suzuki in 2012. Best known as Carmen, Kitic has sung the role more than 200 times throughout Europe and the United States. All I can say is that this was one of the finest productions of Madame Butterfly that I have seen and it closed on April 3rd. The final opera of the 2016 season is Puccini’s La Bohème which is a must see and opens on Saturday, May 14th. LA Philharmonic Maestro Gustavo Dudamel will make his LA Opera debut on Friday, June 10th at 7:30pm and will also conduct the last performance on Sunday, June 12th at 2pm. You don’t want to miss out!
Tickets can be purchased at the LA Opera box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, byphone at (213) 972-8001 or online at www.LAOpera.org. For disability access, call(213) 972-0777 or via email: LAOpera@LAOpera.org.
The author, Sandi Margolis is an actress and a singer/pianist as well as a freelance editor/writer.Share this: