A “western” Butterfly in La Plata: Madama Butterfly in Argentina

ArgentinaArgentina Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Argentino. Conductor: Tulio Gagliardo, Teatro Argentino, La Plata. 15.5.2011. (JSJ)

Director: Rita Cosentino
Sets/Lighting: Juan Carlos Greco
Costumes: Stella Maris Müller
Chorus: Miguel Martínez


Cio-Cio-San: Daniela Tabernig / Florencia Fabris
Pinkerton: Pedro Espinoza / Sebastián Ferrada
Sharpless: Víctor Torres / Fabián Veloz
Suzuki: Alejandra Malvino / Gabriela Cipriani Zec
Goro: Sergio Spina / Patricio Oliveira
The Bonze: Emiliano Bulacios / Oreste Chlopecki
Imperial Commissioner: Mariano Fernández Bustinza / Fernando Nuñez
Prince Yamadori: Sebastián Sorarrain / Ricardo Krampton
Kate Pinkerton: Gabriela Bulich / María Luisa Merino Ronda
Official: Jorge Koszarek
Cio-Cio-San’s mother: Silvia Alesio
Cio-Cio-San’s aunt: Susana Paladino

 Pedro Espinoza (Pinkerton) and Daniela Tabernig (Butterfly). Photo Teatro Argentino.

Having seen numerous productions of Madama Butterfly with a clean and “minimalist” feel to Butterfly’s home and surrounding environment, as if somehow reflective of the east, the Teatro Argentino’s new production of this ever popular work was a striking contrast. In fact apart from a few signs, such as lettering on a doorway, a wall poster and some of the dresses, there was little to suggest that the setting is even in the east, and it certainly wasn’t the turn of the (20th) century of the original but more like the 1940s, based on the car (a real one) in which Yamadori arrived to court Butterfly.

With no little licence on the part of the director Rita Cosentino, there were just two settings corresponding respectively to the two acts – the first being the interior of what was presumably intended as a geisha house, in reference to Butterfly’s former activity, with a stage and low lighting in shades of reds and blacks, and the second a run-down street with a typical La Boca-like tenement which is Butterfly’s home (La Boca being the once fashionable area of Buenos Aires where the poorer immigrants settled in the 19th century).

Of course neither of these are as written and invert the correct first act exterior and second act interior, and so some of the dialogue – particularly in the first act when Pinkerton is commenting on his house – is out of context, but not sufficiently so to be uncomfortable.

Nor was there any discomfort in the fact that Daniela Tabernig neither looked nor acted like a 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San and both musically and dramatically was strong, and without the meekness often seen in the role. Similarly Chilean tenor Pedro Espinoza was a fine Pinkerton, but without the arrogance the character is often assumed to have.

Unlike Cio-Cio-San, who adopted western dress after her wedding, Suzuki, capably played by Alejandra Malvino, was very much a Japanese representation, while Victor Torres had good solid presence as Sharpless.

The musical direction was in the hands of the Buenos Aires born now resident in Turkey musical director of the Izmir Opera, Tulio Gagliardo, who elicited good control and attention to detail, although in the first act in particular volumes were frequently on the loud side. The chorus too performed with customary style.

One final point: the artistic licence of the producer is one thing but why, when Pinkerton and Butterfly’s child is stated to be a boy, as in this production and similarly in Buenos Aires Lírica’s production of last year have the part played by a girl?

Jonathan Spencer Jones