Spain Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real / Marco Armiliato (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 15 & 16.7.2017. (JMI)
Cio Cio San – Ermonela Jaho/Hui He
Pinkerton – Jorge de León/Andrea Caré
Suzuki – Enkelejda Shkosa/Gemma Coma-Alabert
Sharpless – Ángel Ódena/Luis Cansino
Goro – Francisco Vas
Uncle Bonzo – Fernando Radó/Scott Wilde
Yamadori – Tomeu Bibiloni
Kate Pinkerton – Marifé Nogales
Production: Teatro Real
Director – Mario Gas (original), Justin Way (revival)
Sets – Ezio Frigerio
Costumes – Franca Squarciapino
Lighting – Vinicio Cheli
This Mario Gas production premiered in 2002 at the Teatro Real and was revived five years later; his collaborators were the renowned trio of Ezio Frigerio, Franca Squarciapino and Vinicio Cheli. The production takes place in a 1930s movie studio – an original concept that has its virtues and its flaws. Among the former are waiting for the opera to start and watching all the preparations for the shooting; and the projection of film images above the stage, which allows the viewer to closely monitor the interpreters. The chief drawback is the fact that the opera loses a sense of intimacy with all the cameras and movie people about.
Mario Gas recreates Butterfly’s dream at the beginning of Act III, where Pinkerton appears and embraces Butterfly and their son. The least interesting part of the production is the continuous turning of the house, as if it were a merry-go-round. The house itself, framed by a series of columns, seems more like a mansion for Delilah or Idomeneo’s palace than a Japanese house. But overall, the production works just fine.
The musical direction was in the hands of Marco Armiliato, who returned to Teatro Real after an absence of 13 years. He’s a very active conductor today in the top opera houses and always in demand by the great divos of the moment. His conducting here was fully convincing, especially in the emotionally-charged third act, although there were a few excesses of orchestral volume in Act II that caused problems for the singers. Once again, the orchestra was excellent.
In the first cast Cio Cio San was sung by soprano Ermonela Jaho, who has made the character of Butterfly her own, living it with a rare intensity. She lacks a fuller middle range, but in terms of conveying emotion, Ermonela Jaho is exceptional, possibly the best today in such a complex character.
In the second cast, soprano Hui He sang the part, and her performance was very good. Her voice is wider than Ermonela Jaho’s, with more dramatic touches, but does not reach the level of emotion that the latter offered the day before. Unlike the last time I saw Hui He in the role, she has now eliminated the fearsome top note of her entrance on stage.
Jorge de León was Pinkerton in the first cast, and he demonstrated the attractive and important voice which has led to him to performing in the major opera houses since his 2010 debut in Madrid in Andrea Chenier. His voice is wide and beautiful, though one might miss more elegance in his phrasing.
Italian tenor Andrea Caré was no more than correct in the second cast. His voice is suitable for the role, but on more than one occasion he pushed a little too much.
Mezzo-soprano Enkelejda Shkosa in the part of Suzuki showed a wide voice and sang with gusto and emotion. Gemma Coma-Alabert also did well in the part, although her voice is not as impressive as that of her colleague.
Consul Sharpless was performed in the first cast by baritone Ángel Ódena, in one of the best performances I can remember from him – a true model to follow in this part. Luis Cansino in the second cast was a more modest Sharpless. His interpretation was appropriate, but his voice did not always reach out into the theatre.
Francisco Vas did well as Goro. Fernando Radó was a fine Bonze, while in the second cast Scott Wilde offered evident signs of vocal fatigue. Tomeu Bibiloni as Yamadori and Marifé Nogales as Kate Pinkerton were correct.
Ermonela Jaho received a well-deserved standing ovation.
José M. Irurzun