Madama Butterfly: In Traditional Staging in Munich

GermanyGermany Puccini: Madama Butterfly, Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Stefano Ranzani (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 26.2.2015 (JMI)

Opolais  c) W. Hösl
Opolais c) W. Hösl


Cio Cio San: Kristina Opolais
Pinkerton: Dmytro Popov
Sharpless: Markus Eiche
Suzuki: Okka Von Der Demerau
Goro: Ulrich Ress
Bonzo: Goran Juric
Yamadori: Andrea Borghini
Kate Pinkerton: Marzia Marzo

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Wolf Busse
Sets: Otto Stich
Costumes: Silvia Strahammer

The main reason for my trip to Munich is to attend The Ring of the Nibelung, which will be conducted in this house for the first time by musical director Kirill Petrenko. I saw this Ring in July 2012 when it was conducted by Kent Nagano; at the same time, Petrenko was doing the Ring in Bayreuth. Those were Nagano’s final performances, and Petrenko took the podium of the Bayerische Staatsoper the following autumn. The first two operas in the cycle are taking place now, with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung scheduled for the end of March, and I hope to review the complete cycle.

As a kind of prologue, we have Madama Butterfly in a production by Wolf Busse that was premiered here in June 1973. The direction and staging could not be more traditional, with no change of time or place. The set consists of a Japanese house with moving panels, placed in the middle of the stage in Act I, with a beautiful bridge to the right where Cio Cio San, her relatives and other characters enter. In the following two acts, the house fills the stage and the action moves inside. The costumes are appropriate and attractive. I guess it won’t be difficult for this production to reach the half-century mark, which for a stage production is a truly exceptional longevity.

The musical direction was in the hands of Stefano Ranzani, whose performance was effective if not particularly bright. The biggest problem was the excess of volume which made it difficult for the voices to reach the audience. But there was an excellent sound from the orchestra, and the same can be said of the choir.

The main focus of interest in this performance was the presence of Latvian soprano Kristina Opolais in the character of Cio Cio San. Gifted with an attractive voice and an outstanding presence, this soprano is a true stage animal. She is at her best in verismo, as she proved recently in Manon Lescaut with Jonas Kaufmann. If her interpretation is exceptional and almost ideal in these roles, I cannot say the same as far as her voice goes. It’s attractive and homogeneous but rather small in size, especially given the orchestral wall tonight. There were many times during the first two acts when she had trouble being heard, and “Un bel di, vedremo” was good but not outstanding. Things got better in Act III, where Ms. Opolais proved to be a remarkable singer and artist. Finally, there is one point that I would like to make. She doesn’t avoid the notes written by Puccini, even the D flat of Butterfly’s entrance on stage, but I don’t like the way she handles the top notes. Instead of them being a continuation of the phrase, she stops and then hits the high notes.

Tenor Dmytro Popov, who replaced Joseph Calleja as Pinkerton, was good. His tenor is well suited to the character, and he sang “Addio fiorito asil” with gusto.

Markus Eiche was good in the part of Sharpless, while Okka Von der Demerau offered an important voice as Suzuki.

José Mª Irurzun 

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