Valencia’s Madama Butterfly marked by unexpected cast changes

SpainSpain Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Generalitat Valenciana Chorus, Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra / Antonino Fogliani (conductor). Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 16.12.2021. (JMI)

Piero Pretti (Pinkerton) and Maria Teresa Leva (Cio-Cio-San) © M. Lorenzo

Director – Emilio López
Sets – Manuel Zuriaga
Costumes – Giusi Giustino
Lighting – Antonio Castro
Video – Miguel Bosch

Cast included:
Cio-Cio-San – Maria Teresa Leva
Pinkerton – Piero Pretti
Sharpless – Àngel Òdena
Suzuki – Cristina Faus

It was exciting to be back at the opera in Valencia, and with good reason. On the one hand, it has been more than two years since I was last here due to the pandemic. On the other, I had read reviews of the first performances of this Madama Butterfly: all of them praised it, and especially Marina Rebeka who had apparently triumphed in the role of Cio-Cio-San.

Upon arriving at the theater, however, I found out that Marina Rebeka had canceled and was to be replaced by María Teresa Leva. Something similar but in the opposite direction occurred with Piero Pretti as Pinkerton: he canceled the premiere but reappeared for this performance.

This Emilio López staging was first done at the Palau de les Arts in October 2017, and could be seen two years later in San Sebastian. As the curtain rises, we understand from the video projections that we are in Nagasaki following its destruction by the atomic bomb. The sets in Act I are conventional; the house appears in the next two acts practically in ruins as a result of the bombing. The costumes are very classic.

The fact that the action takes place after the bombing is striking, and one cannot understand what the American consul is doing in Nagasaki in these circumstances. The second act takes place in a nocturnal setting which is unconvincing, although it does not prevent the protagonist from seeing a ship entering the port at night and reading its name.

Conductor Antonino Fogliani offered a solid reading, which improved as the opera progressed: Act III was exemplary and notable for the emotion conveyed. There was an excess of sound in the first minutes of first act, and something similar happened in the second one Under his baton was the excellent Valenciana orchestra which is always worthy of mention.

The great draw for me had been the chance to hear Marina Rebeka as Cio-Cio-San but sadly, as noted above, it was not to be. Her substitute was Maria Teresa Leva; I had seen her in this role two years ago at the Liceu in Barcelona, and my impression now was similar to then. She is a fine interpreter of the character, and her voice is attractive throughout the tessitura, but her low notes are weak, almost inaudible. Things work much better at the top, especially in forte, although the very top ones are somewhat compromised. She gave a good performance after her first entrance on stage, when things did not work out well.

Tenor Piero Pretti was Pinkerton, and his voice seems to me to be one of the most attractive nowadays and very homogeneous. The problems are that his volume is not excessive, and he is not particularly expressive when singing.

Baritone Àngel Òdena was convincing as Sharpless (always, for me, one of his best characters), and mezzo-soprano Cristina Faus as Suzuki had an attractive and well-suited voice for the part.

José M. Irurzun

A performance will be streamed live on 19 December on OperaVision (click here).

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