OPERA NEWS - Madama Butterfly
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Madama Butterfly

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma | Baths of Caracalla

WHEN IT COMES TO OPERA AIR opera, it’s usually more about the spectacle than the quality of the music. Elaborate sets, sports-style stadium seating and—naturally—the stars overhead, define the most famous outdoor opera venues, including the Arena di Verona and the Seebühne at the Bregenz Festival. The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma’s new production of Madama Butterfly at the Baths of Caracalla in late August was a refreshing exception to this general rule (seen Aug. 30). 
The Teatro dell’Opera, which uses the Ancient Roman ruins as its summer home, delivered a intelligently non-traditional production directed by Àlex Ollé, one of the six artistic directors of the famed Catalan theater troupe Le Fura dels Baus. Ollé’s production was mounted at the end of a season that had also included a reconstruction of the original production of Tosca from 1900 directed by Alessandro Talevi. Butterfly lovers (can we call them lepidopterists?) who were expecting a similarly lavish and historically accurate staging would have been severely disappointed, although there was much to applaud in this modern-dress interpretation. Ollé’s staging, a co-production with the Sydney Opera House, reimagined Pinkerton as a real estate mogul developing high rises in contemporary Nagasaki. In act one, the perfunctory wedding took place while land surveyors milled about. In the ensuing acts, Butterfly languished in a decrepit shack, as an entire city sprung to life via inspired projections on the imposing ruins in the background (video by Franc Aleu). The Bonze and his entourage were depicted as a Yakuza gang who trashed the wedding festivities with baseball bats.  
  Top vocal honors went to the evening’s Butterfly, Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi. She plunged into an impassioned, incisive portrayal that shone for its sheer vocal beauty and her keen sense of dramatic intensity and nuance. She gave a holistic and flowing account that mostly seemed to emanate organically from Puccini’s music, yet was stamped with the individual talent of a courageous, technically accomplished vocalist. She floated the line of this majestic role with buoyant grace and soft, pure tones that turned fiercely resolute and heroic when called for. The raw emotion of her death scene was somewhat tainted by Ollé’s baffling decision to have Cio-Cio-San’s son scream “Mama!” repeated over Lombardi’s anguished cries, as if the scene needed any more pathos. But despite this regrettable distraction, she anchored a performance that had no shortage of vocal finesse.
Angelo Villari was a robust if somewhat reserved Pinkerton. He sang with sturdy, arduous tones, gently navigating the waves and crests of his music. But he also stripped his interpretation of its more lyrical and forlorn qualities, which helped us to see Pinkerton for the despicable character that he is. With his stern yet sonorous baritone, Stefano Antonucci was a quietly severe Sharpless. Anna Pennisi was dependable, if rarely exciting, as the clearheaded Suzuki. Andrea Porta made a bright and brief impression as Yamadori, as did the ravishing Anastasia Boldyreva as Kate Pinkerton. 
One of the few weak moments of the evening was the humming chorus. The chorus of the Teatro dell’Opera, filed across stage dressed as construction workers along with a shuffling line of what appeared to be people evicted from their houses to make way for Pinkerton’s luxury development. They sang entirely without amplification, with the result that it became more a “moaning chorus” than anything else. 
Much of the evening’s momentum and vitality came from the inspired conducting of the French-Canadian maestro Yves Abel. He led the orchestra in an elegantly undulating reading that had no shortage of dramatic insight. Improbably, he succeeded in drawing nuanced and delicate musical reading from his musicians; the subtler effects—fragile soli, urgent dynamic shifts—came across thanks to judicious amplification at the majestic outdoor venue. This helped ensure both a memorable and great performance. —A.J. Goldmann
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