Palau de les Arts Review 2021-22: Madama Butterfly

(Credit: Miguel Lorenzo)

This review is based on the performance of the 16e from December 2021

Despite the illness of several singers, the Palau de Les Arts still managed to find a way to present a cover of its production of “Madame Butterfly”.

Jorge Rodriguez-Norton, who was playing Goro, fell ill and had to be replaced by Mikeldi Atxalandabaso within a very short time. Tenor Piero Pretti also did not feel 100% and did not sing the dress rehearsal. And then Marina Rebeka – who was making her debut as Cio-cio-san in this production – also fell ill and had to be replaced by Maria Teresa Leva. Leva had been hired to sing only one performance, but due to this last-minute call, he would sing two performances over the following days.

A promising butterfly

As soon as Maria Teresa Leva’s brilliant and lyrical voice was heard backstage, with long floating lines, a sure crescendo on her first B flat in “Ove accoglie” and an incredible, soaring, high D flat pianissimo, it was clear that this young soprano had great potential and was going to make this evening memorable. It has a smooth, dark and round timbre, and despite the crystalline and floating pianissimi, powerful and round high notes too, as it proved on the high B flat of “Amore mio” in act one. She played a naive and shy young woman during the first act, making beautiful vocal inflections and coloring her voice. The duet “Viene la sera… vogliatemi bene” presented a burst of passion, lyricism and emotion, crowned at the end by a long high C.

Even with a surprisingly promising first act, it is in the second act that the sopranos who played the unfortunate geisha are truly put to the test. Act two is known for its length and the emotional arc and acting that the performers have to perform. Leva kept up the high hopes she had placed earlier and her singing has always remained impressive. Dramatic moments like “Che tua madre” were imbued with a sense of hope and faith, eschewing overworked verism manners or gestures. The performance of her aria “Un veld dí vedremo” was full of joy and emotion as she sang an exquisite mezza voce before delivering a loud and climactic high B flat. She delivered two other breathtaking pianissimis: a high natural A on “quando fa la nidiata” and a natural offstage B on “ed io col mio dolor”.

In “forse potrei cader morta sull’attimo”, Leva changes dramatically, becoming a resigned woman who will desperately follow her husband’s wishes, even if it means his death. You could hear in Leva’s singing that sense of abandonment, where she kept the vocal line written in the most dramatic moments, instead of the sobs, false crying and parlatto singing usually seen in the last scene of the opera. The interpretation of “tu… tu… tu piccolo Iddio” was touching and moving, and his natural A’s were strong. Plus, her voice was fresh at the end of the performance, which is a difficult task in a role like Butterfly. From Butterfly’s first entry to the opera’s conclusion, the soprano must sing nonstop for about an hour and 15 minutes. During this time, he is asked to sound young, innocent, sing long legato lines and have a solid center to sing the dramatic and tragic moments as well.

Even with the pressure to get on stage at a very short notice and knowing that she was due to sing two performances of Butterfly in the following days, Leva devoted herself entirely to the role both vocally and dramatically and achieved success. global which has been widely awarded. by the audience at the end of the show.

Mixed support

Unfortunately, Suzuki, played by Spanish mezzo-soprano Cristina Faus, was not a great addition to Leva’s Butterfly. Faus’s voice sounded dry, distant and tired, and his low register was not strong. She struggled to maintain the long lyrical lines of the “flower duet”, where she seemed out of place and even shortened her lines when they were to be sung in unison with Butterfly. With so many other cast members sick, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was in a similar condition as well.

Italian tenor Piero Pretti played the role of ungrateful US Navy Pinkerton. Although he suffered from a cold and did not fully recover, his voice showed no signs of fatigue or dryness and he delivered a passionate performance with his high-pitched B-flat and long, sustained C. alongside the soprano at the end of the first act. His timbre is a little throaty, and his volume is modest, but he is a reliable tenor, and, aware of the nature of his instrument and the acoustics of the theater, he sang most of his high notes right up front. from the scene. .

Spanish baritone Angel Ódena played Sharpless, the American Consul, with a voluminous, dark and powerful voice. On his entry line, ‘sbuffa, inciampica’, he delivered perfect high G and maintained the role’s uncomfortable range, which constantly resides around a high F, never an easy area for a baritone to sing in full. the night. As with most of Puccini’s baritone roles, with the exception of Gianni Schicci, there are no solo tunes and the baritone is relegated to the supporting lines for the soprano or tenor. Ódena sang with measure and portrayed a noble character moved and worried by the fragility of Butterfly in the face of the indifference and inconstancy of Pinkerton.

Mikeldi Atxalandabaso, who joined the company two days before the dress rehearsal to cover a sick colleague, once again showed her professionalism, artistry and beautifully projected sound. As usual, he transformed a minor supporting role – that of Goro – into a bright and important character. It’s always a luxury to have Atxalandabaso in the cast of any production.

Inconsistency and misreading

Emilio López directed the production, which was performed for the second time at the Palau de les Arts but has been seen on several stages of Spanish opera. With a beautifully constructed first act, with hyper realistic sets from Manuel Zuriaga, the performance promised to be a modern take on this classic Puccini track. But everything changes radically in act two, breaking the coherence and unity shown in act one. The problem stems from the current obsession with giving operas a second reading and writing a parallel dramaturgy. Act 2 takes place after the devastating US atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The whole of act two, as with act one, is hyperrealistic and shows the devastation and destruction caused by the bomb, and this is where the plot and story comes crashing down. It’s hard to believe that Butterfly, her son, Suzuki, and the consul would roam free in an area heavily irradiated with toxic nuclear fallout. The “flower duo”, where Suzuki and Butterfly collect all the flowers from the garden and spread them out on the tatami floor makes no sense and even seems comical when there are no trees or plants at all. . What is the use of situating the action in such a precise and marked period? Does it add anything new to the plot? Does this affect the characters in any way? The answer to both questions is no. All gratuitous references to atomic bombs are therefore irrelevant and unnecessary.

The dance that takes place during the interlude of Act 2, where the dancers wear long, vaporous sleeves that simulate the wings of a butterfly would have been adequate if the language of the staging were abstract and symbolic: but not with such a hyperrealistic approach to acting. and staging. The singers’ acting was simple and linear, with the exception of Leva in the lead role, which turned out to be a poor staging choice on the part of the director. It was a good attempt to avoid gratuitous drama, but it lacked emotion.

Antonino Fogliani directed the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana. He clearly exposes the orientalism of Puccini’s score and carefully crushes all its timbric effects, choosing above all heavy and slow tempi. In my opinion, Fogliani’s greatest achievement was his consideration for the vocals of the singers, measuring and leveling the orchestral sound with the vocals. It’s hard work in a place like the Palau de Les Arts, where the orchestra pit is large and completely exposed. The acoustics of the theater are so good that the orchestral sound is always clear and powerful, to the detriment of singers who are usually unable to overcome such a dense curtain of sound. Fogliani provided the impetus and maintained the explosive climax of Puccini’s score, but at the same time respected the vocals of the singers so that their sound was not obscured by the sound of the loud orchestra. The Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana did an excellent job and delivered an exquisite interpretation of the choir “bocca chiusa” at the end of the second act.

Despite the initial disappointment at the cancellation of Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, the magic of live theater once again reminded us of the magic of discovering a promising young soprano in Maria Teresa Leva. She gave a flawless and moving performance accompanied by the rich voice of tenor Piero Pretti and the mastery of Mikeldi Atxalandabaso, in a production which was hurt by a pretentious staging that imposed itself to appear politically but which did eventually turned into something irrelevant.

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