A Yankee doesn’t shy away from risk – Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly" in Lubeck
The strangely touching material was taken seriously and pleasantly refrained from dragging it into the here and now. Nevertheless: TheExcess The visually overwhelming ending could not diminish the sentiment that Puccini’s music releases.
Director Ezio Toffolutti worked almost minimalistically in his direction of the characters, but as a set designer at the same time with great gesture. He calls himself in the program "a trained painter", presents itself already on the stage curtain with an enigmatic work. It invites to speculation, whereby one would like to establish a reference to the opera. One sees an ambiguous frame like a painting from behind, on it a structure that could be the cocoon of a butterfly or a figure that dimly distorts a thin wall of a Japanese house. Or is it a view from above, then into a box in which lies a veiled object, possibly the dagger of Butterfly’s father, with which he committed seppuku, the ritualized suicide? This dagger, passed on to the daughter as an heirloom, is finally, together with the ancestor figures, the central motif in the opera. At the beginning of the second elevator, the same curtain is raised again. This time the object is magnified, just as the suffering of the teenage geisha, the title heroine, is magnified.
999 years, can be cancelled monthly
The program booklet, if read retrospectively, gives a simpler interpretation: Toffolutti calls it a "burnt surface" and as "Butterfly’s state of mind" to be interpreted. In any case, the visitor adjusts himself to insinuations. When the curtain rises, the stage seems empty. Between constricting lateral and a curtain at the back something lies on the floor, which is unfolded. It becomes the dwelling rented by Goro, the matchmaker, for the American naval lieutenant Pinkerton. The tent-like construction, unstable and short-lived, reinforces the grotesque disproportion to the rental period of 999 years, nevertheless "terminable monthly.
This stage architecture also highlights the stage action around Cio-Cio-San, who, at only 15 years old, enters into marriage with the American in a fleeting ceremony. It also allows a chamber play, which sensitively promotes the tragic development. The Japanese encores set the tone, marking the traditional world of the young Japanese woman: the elaborately hand-embroidered kimono (a feat of costume tailoring)!), the Buddha in the new house, and her traditional heritage that she pulls out of her sleeve. She presents everything to Pinkerton, but does not sacrifice it to the supposedly great love. But Pinkerton doesn’t understand anything, especially doesn’t understand his responsibility, when a person eludes his own past and family in this way.
The sparse stage and the very discreetly led supporting characters reinforce the process. Nothing is concealed, not even the equally undisguised behavior of the Yankee. Pinkerton’s possessive streak is solely sexually motivated. Impatiently he enters into the marriage, knowing that it, like the house, can be terminated at any time. He is known to be able to show something like remorse or a little understanding for the other culture only at the very end. Toffolutti intensifies this final moment with another of his paintings. It shows an astonished face (of a child?) with red lips and put on eyes. They take the form of star anise, the dry fruit of the Asian magnolia tree. It is ingenious how the picture with its similar color palette appears on the floor of the tent, when the tent house is unfolded like an origami. When raised, it covers the entire stage space.
Remarkable acting performance
The enormity of the marriage to what we understand to be a teenager is heightened in this production by the performance skills of the singer Maria Fernanda Castillo. Her voice sounds pliable, yet immensely powerful, sometimes a bit harsh, also strained at first. This may be due to the nervousness of the singer, which the demands of this role promote, but at the same time it fits wonderfully to the young stage character, who on the one hand defies tradition and family with a firm will and naively surrenders to the stranger, and on the other hand is only waveringly aware of her actions, childishly exaggerated and playful. Quite different then the Butterfly in the second part, which the singer portrays with a softer tone and stronger emotions, now as three years older and mother. In her solo parts and in the duets she gains ever greater stature, thus becoming the event of this production.
Next to her, Yoonki Baek as Pinkerton with his tenor strength is a musically strong partner. In the play, too, he agilely portrays the urgently desiring man who neither feels obliged to Japanese tradition and disregards it, nor lets the admonitions of the American consul Sharpless get to him, but rather drowns them in alcohol. The way in which the direction of the two protagonists builds up the great duet "Bimba, dagli occhi is precisely set theater, without pomposity and false gestures, which, however, betray the background of both characters.
Both leads have a supporting cast. Wioletta Hebrowska sings and plays the servant Suzuki, an almost luxurious casting with her so tonally beautiful mezzo and her sensitive playing. As a servant, but at the same time a confidante, she has her great moments musically in the second part. At Pinkerton’s side is the windy, ever-snooping Goro, to whom Noah Schaul, an ensemble newcomer to the theater, gives his young and bright tenor. In between stands the ever-assured Gerard Quinn, noble in voice and figure.
This production is also an event in another respect. That a theater the size of Lubeck is forced to hire specialists is no secret. With this "Butterfly guests are the absolute exception. One is Owen Mitsileng as the noble Prince Ymadori. With his dignified bass he woos the abandoned, wants to give wealth to the impoverished. A dark, black colored bass is owned by Rúni Brattaberg. He is thus an impressive uncle Bonze. Like Iris Meyer, he is a member of the ensemble. Despite her beautiful mezzo, she cannot save the weak final part as Kate Pinkerton. The far stretched undignified tugging around the child can neither the music nor the visual make understandable, even if the direction leaves open whether the desperate Butterfly kills herself.
The Lubeck Philharmonic Orchestra achieves a great deal in melodious solo parts as well as in plaintive tuttis. Their boss Stefan Vladar chooses taut tempi at the beginning, preparing for the whirling first part. The great outbursts in Puccini’s music shine colorfullybut occasionally obscure the singers in the first part. Nevertheless, Vladar’s sensitive conducting is one of the reasons why this production was applauded so enthusiastically.