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Madama Butterfly

Israeli Opera

On rare occasions there is an opera performance that becomes an unforgettable spiritual experience. This was the case with Madama Butterfly at Israeli Opera on April 19. 

The prerequisite for a truly great performance of Butterfly is a great singer in the title role, and Ira Bertman fulfilled this condition. Born in Latvia and trained mostly in Israel, Bertman already has several great roles to her credit, most notably Suor Angelica, Mimì, Lisa in The Queen of Spades, and Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, but Cio-Cio-San has been her greatest role so far. Endowed with a strong, fresh, mellow and warm soprano, equal in all registers, Bertman realized the charcater with intelligence and sensitivity, carefully building the development of Butterfly from a naïve fifteen-year-old in Act I to the broken, tragic heroine of Act III. The Belgrade-born tenor Zoran Todorovich was a perfect match for her. Todorovich's voice has power and beauty, and he is an excellent actor. His finest dramatic moment came in Act III, when Pinkerton realizes how rotten he has been to his young bride.

Consul Sharpless was sung by Vladimir Braun, the regular bass-baritone of Israeli Opera. Braun's full, rich voice shows no sign of decline now that he is in his sixties, and he built the part with deep understanding, especially in his great Act II scene with Butterfly.

This Butterfly production marked an important stage in the efforts of Israeli Opera to build a strong Israeli cast, especially through its Opera Studio, which provides young Israeli singers with professional training and opportunities to appear on stage. One of the happy outcomes is mezzo Ayala Zimbler, who excelled both as singer and as actress in the role of Suzuki. The supporting roles were all filled by Israeli artists. Yosef Aridan offered a fine tenor buffo as the crook Goro, and Noah Briger was excellent as Prince Yamadori. The only weak link was Alexei Kanonikoff as the Bonze: his voice was bland and underpowered.

Italian conductor Luciano di Martino made an excellent debut with Israeli Opera. His conducting was precise and controlled, with excellent balance achieved between the orchestra and the singers. Most importantly, di Martino brought out the contrast between the aggressive fugal writing representing the Americans and the delicate, artificial colors of the Japanese music.

This Butterfly is a coproduction with Teatr Wielki National Opera of Warsaw. Mariusz Trelinsky directed with sensitivity, matched by the artistry of set designer Boris Kudlicka. The stage was almost free of objects, yet it was alive with moving curtains and changing colors, with deep red representing the Japanese world. An especially powerful gesture was the sudden appearance of the two Japanese gods in the final scene as two enormous statues. spacer


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