Asmik Grigorian brings her exquisite Butterfly to the Met

United StatesUnited States Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera / Xian Zhang (conductor). Metropolitan Opera, New York, 30.4.2024. (RP)

Asmik Grigorian (Cio-Cio-San) © Richard Termine/Met Opera

Production – Anthony Minghella
Director/Choreographer – Carolyn Choa
Sets – Michael Levine
Costumes – Han Feng
Lighting – Peter Mumford
Puppetry – Blind Summit Theatre

Cio-Cio-San – Asmik Grigorian
Pinkerton – Jonathan Tetelman
Suzuki – Elizabeth DeShong
Sharpless – Lucas Meachem
Goro – Tony Stevenson
Bonze – Robert Pomakov
Prince Yamadori – Jeongcheol Cha
Kate Pinkerton – Briana Hunter

The spring run of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera brought the much-anticipated debut of Asmik Grigorian in the title role. Cio-Cio-San has been Grigorian’s calling card in opera houses across Europe including London, Vienna, Rome and Verona. With this performance, Grigorian won the audience’s heart and secured her place among the finest interpreters of the role in recent memory.

This production by Anthony Minghella and Carolyn Choa debuted at the Met in the 2006-07 season. First seen at the English National Opera the previous year, it was the late English director’s sole operatic endeavor. Apart from the stark imagery and kaleidoscopic use of jewel-toned colors, the production is best known for its use of puppetry to portray Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton’s son, as well as Butterfly herself in a dream sequence.

The most compelling aspect of Grigorian’s Butterfly is the evenness of her sizable voice and her ever-present lyricism and sensitivity to the musical line. In this regard, the soprano was perfectly in sync with conductor Xian Zhang. Their chemistry resulted in a performance that was as moving musically as it was dramatically, with Grigorian and Zhang seeming to breathe and emote as one.

In the opening scenes, their focus on lyricism and line worked to create a Butterfly of great delicacy and determination. Her plea to Pinkerton to simply love her climaxed on a high note that shimmered and floated effortlessly into the theater. ‘Un bel di’ unfolded just as simply, building gradually to an all-encompassing expression of triumph that Pinkerton was indeed returning to her.

Grigorian etched tragedy with the same precision and clarity. ‘Tu, tu piccolo Iddio’ blazed with emotion as Grigorian’s Butterfly bid farewell to her son. The raw emotion was there, but so was the soprano’s cultivated tone and sensitivity to line.

Asmik Grigorian (Cio-Cio-San) and Jonathan Tetelman (Pinkerton) © Richard Termine Met Opera

Jonathan Tetelman was ill for the first performance of the run, so this was his house debut in the role. The tenor was in vocal and dramatic overdrive for the first act. If it was not clear to anyone that Pinkerton was a callous American cad, Tetelman drove the point home.

’Vieni, amor mio!’ was sung with sweetness and ardor, but his default mode was to punch out climactic high notes with no regard to line. Abruptly cutting off the final high note in ‘Vogliatemi bene’, the duet that ends Act I, was perhaps an indication that Tetelman was still not in top form. In the final act, it was as if the tenor had undergone a transformation, and he sang with far more refinement and sensitivity. This performance did not show him at his best.

Lucas Meachem was an exceptionally compelling Sharpless, the American consulate who cautions Pinkerton when marrying the fifteen-year-old Japanese girl, and then tries to clean up the resulting mess as best he can. Warmth and compassion radiated from Meachem as he attempted to break the news to Butterfly that Pinkerton was returning to divorce her. The baritone’s resonant voice made the scene even more poignant to witness.

Returning to the role of Suzuki was Elizabeth DeShong, who has been in the run since it opened in January. DeShong is a compelling actress, whose imposing mezzo-soprano expressed joy and anger with equal impact. Tony Stevenson reprised his role as the conniving marriage broker who arranged Cio-Cio-San’s marriage to Pinkerton and is now seeking to marry her off to the flamboyantly egotistical Prince Yamadori of Jeongcheol Cha.

Zhang made her Met conducting debut with the first performance of Madama Butterfly in January, and she has led all the performances this season save one. Her affinity with the score was evident from the start, and it has only deepened in the intervening months. Zhang’s attention to detail and balance is exceptional. The Met Orchestra and Chorus responded in kind to create a performance as beautiful as it was moving.

Rick Perdian

5 thoughts on “Asmik Grigorian brings her exquisite Butterfly to the Met”

  1. I heard and saw The Metropolitan Opera production of Madama Butterfly today at The Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, North Carolina. How privileged to behold the glorious Met and its presentation. As a resident of New York and a member of the Met audience for fifty years, to have this pleasure in retirement is wonderful.

  2. Watched it in the cinema in the UK. Absolutely spellbinding.
    Superb acting and the vocals incredible.
    A night I will never forget.

  3. I experienced it today. It was beautiful and heart-wrenching. Her voice and facial expressions when she was waiting for Pinkerton to return had me in tears for hours. She was wonderful. Bravo

  4. This stage-on-screen showing of Madama Butterfly was the best thing I have ever seen in a cinema, theatre or concert hall in decades. Simply stunning: it took me quite a while at the end to get myself together and leave.


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