Madama Butterfly in Barcelona: Second Cast First

SpainSpain G. Puccini: Madama Butterfly, Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus, Daniele Callegari (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 26 & 27.07.2013 (JMI).


Cio Cio San: Patricia Racette/Amarilli Nizza
Pinkerton: Stefano Secco/Roberto Aronica
Sharpless: Fabio Capitanucci/Carlos Bergasa
Suzuki: Marie-Nicole Lemieux/Gemma Coma-Alabert
Goro: Francisco Vas
Yamadori: Roberto Accurso
Zio Bonzo: Evgueni Orlov

Coproduction Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Gran Teatre del Liceu
Direction: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier (original)
Justin Way (revival)
Sets: Christian Fenouillat
Costumes: Agostino Cavalca
Lighting: Christophe Forey

This year Liceu programmed two cycles of Madama Butterfly. The first one took place in March, while the second came in July to close the opera season. Both the casts and the conductors were different in each cycle. I had the opportunity to review the production in March– so I’ll focus my comments on the new faces.

Daniele Callegari took Perez Sierra’s place as conductor and his interpretation differed not only from his predecessor but was also different on each evening. With the first cast he was mostly routine and without a trace of emotion, which is a huge problem in an opera like Madama Butterfly. For unknown reasons, things changed for the better in the second cast. I don’t mean that his conducting was outstanding, but at least there was more life in his reading. In fact, the audience reacted in very different ways on each occasion. Even the performance from Liceu orchestra was different, very poor on the first evening and better on the following day.

Is there an explanation for all this? – not to my knowledge.

Both protagonists were quite convincing. In the first cast Cio Cio San was the American soprano Patricia Racette, who gave an outstanding stage performance, with her acting almost surpassing her singing. There is no doubt that she is an important interpreter of this character, but the voice had no special appeal. In the love duet of the first act I thought there was no chemistry between Mrs. Racette and Stefano Secco. She was good in Un bel di vedremo, but the best part of her performance took place in the last act, especially in Tu, tu, piccolo Iddio and the suicide scene.

In the second cast the new Cio Cio San was Italian soprano Amarilli Nizza, who gave a very convincing portrayal of the unhappy geisha. This singer is at her best in Puccini, her soprano is appealing, fairly homogenous, and she knows how to express emotion to the audience. I find her a little short in the middle range, which had the result that in the last act she was a better actress than singer.

By the way, it is interesting to note that unlike the March performances, both sopranos avoided the D flat at Butterfly’s entrance. I know of no soprano who does this if she can produce the note.

Stefano Secco was a correct Pinkerton, but without much interest. Roberto Aronica was much better. Today Mr. Aronica is a full lyric tenor, even spinto, while Stefano Secco is no more than a light-lyric tenor. I found Aronica much improved from previous occasions, with a beatiful voice perfectly suited to the role.

It seems thart there is in Barcelona a flu that affects baritones, since both Fabio Capitanucci and Carlos Bergasa were indisposed. Mr. Capitanucci was a good Sharpless, after a rather weak first act, while Carlos Bergasa was no more than a seviceable interpreter.

Suzuki is one of the characters that always have the favor of the audience. There was no exception to the rule on this occasion and Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux was luxury casting in this role. Gemma Coma-Alabert was also good in the second cast.

In the secondary characters I have to mention Francisco Vas, who made a magnificent Goro. If we were at the Oscars, he would certainly be my candidate for the best supporting actor.

While Liceu was sold out in March, this time there were more than a few empty seats, particularly in the stalls. Temperatures rising above 30 degrees and very high humidity are not the best things to encourage an audience. The second cast was, correctly in my view, much better received than the first.

José Mª Irurzun