Saturday, July 20, 2024

This Aix-en-Provence manufacturing quietly, powerfully rethought and reimagined Madama Butterfly – Seen and Heard Worldwide

FranceFrance Pageant d’Aix-en-Provence [1] – Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Soloists, Lyon Opera Refrain (refrain grasp: Benedict Kearns), Lyon Opera Orchestra / Daniele Rustoni (conductor). Théâtre de l’Archeveché, Aix-en-Provence, 8.7.2024. (MB)

Pageant d’Aix-en-Provence 2024: Madama Butterfly © Ruth Walz

Director – Andrea Breth
Set designs – Raimund Orfeo Voigt
Costumes – Ursula Renzenbrink
Lighting – Alexander Koppelmaan
Dramaturgy – Klaus Bertisch

Cio-Cio San – Ermonela Jaho
B.F. Pinkerton – Adam Smith
Suzuki – Mihoko Fujimura
Sharpless – Lionel Lhote
Goro – Carlo Bosi
The Bonze – Inho Jeong
Prince Yamadori – Kristofer Lundin
Kate Pinkerton – Albane Carrère
Imperial Commissioner – Kristján Jóhannnesson

Madama Butterfly has turn into a troublesome opera to stage, largely on account of its deeply problematical material, but in addition its dramatic straightforwardness. Does one simply ignore the previous insofar as potential, maybe firming down what may need been acceptable to some a few a long time in the past but would now not be thought of to be; or does one tackle a few of its points head on and, at the very least for some, threat it buckling below the burden of a vital equipment it’ll wrestle to help onstage? Its orientalism (or worse) won’t go away, so one goes to need to take a view whether or not one likes it or not; likewise, the cruelty inextricably linked with the sympathy it voices and evokes. And assuming one shouldn’t be going to take the road that there’s nothing unsuitable with Pinkerton’s actions or certainly American imperialism, is there actually a lot to interpret, as opposed to attract out?

Andrea Breth seems to assume not — or at the very least declines to take action. She doesn’t try any grand re-evaluation of the opera, however she does heighten its nastiness and, finally, the facility of its tragedy. Breth doesn’t impose an idea, good, dangerous, or detached, upon the work, however has clearly thought each about its issues and the drama that lies in its element and presents them with readability and integrity. The place the opening scene can usually appear a mere prelude, albeit a mandatory one, right here we’re confronted with the horror of what’s there from the beginning: the racism, imperialism, and misogyny of Pinkerton abundantly clear in his dismissive remedy of Suzuki. She barely registers as a human being as he takes off his sneakers. Save for her, it is usually, previous to Cio-Cio San’s arrival, a completely (heterosexual) male surroundings — and it feels prefer it. No matter it’s – ‘love’ hardly appears the phrase – that Pinkerton feels for his bride, its roots are on this context. Suzuki, furthermore, is aware of exactly what’s going on and tells us so, lengthy earlier than she says a phrase; Breth’s route and Mihoko Fujimura’s performing are as one.

Furthermore, Breth doesn’t try to ‘perceive’ Japanese tradition. Within the programme, she freely admits that she doesn’t and can’t, in distinction with Puccini’s then typical but, for us, deeply problematical acts of appropriation. It’s troublesome, maybe inconceivable, even to speak about this with out orientalising, however notion, each its truths and its lies, stands on the coronary heart of a story involved with mutual incomprehension in addition to deeply stacked scales. Light designs recommend one thing retrospective, a refusal to resort to ‘vibrant’ caricature, or each; so does lighting that seems extra dialectical than crudely binary in its portrayal of lightness and darkness. Masked actors play Butterfly’s household, while their voices come from singers, virtually unseen, at nighttime surrounding the stage. Furthermore, the tempo of their ‘motion’, if one can name that it in any respect, is sort of totally different from Puccini’s. To our eyes – and ears – they gradual it down, however maybe therein lies some type of resistance in addition to distinction. And naturally, in most respects, they’re proper. Breth makes a lot, although something however crudely, of Kate Pinkerton’s arrival and act of child-possession, sealing the merciless tragedy, while Butterfly’s suicide is horrible, because it should be, although in no sense gratuitously so. Actors and singers, in spite of everything, play characters; they don’t (straightforwardly) turn into them, at the very least from a Brechtian standpoint. Certainly, the connection between realism and different potentialities is likely to be mentioned to lie on the coronary heart of the manufacturing, as maybe of the work and the way we would now strategy it.

Daniele Rustoni’s conducting of a tremendous forged and Lyon Opera forces mixed apparently with Breth’s staging. I’m positive it might be distorting to say that one decided the opposite, however one definitely had the impression of interaction. Rustoni’s related consideration to element contributed to, slightly than detracting from, a larger sense of the entire. His tempi, particularly within the first act, I used to be much less positive about; that act particularly got here to look more and more drawn out. But, thought of as a complete, that appeared very a lot in line with the (masked) disinclination to hurry, and paid off handsomely within the second and third acts, the place ghosts of Tristan und Isolde particularly enlightened and discomfited. The erotics of this efficiency could possibly be skilled each instantly and at a classy degree of mediation, as with its different qualities.

Pageant d’Aix-en-Provence 2024: Ermonela Jaho as Cio-Cio San © Ruth Walz

That definitely included singing. To start with, I felt barely troubled by an obvious lack of dramatic verisimilitude in regards to the two central characters, struggling to attain mandatory suspension of perception given a piece aesthetic that appears, although maybe solely appears, to insist on realism. There have been instances, furthermore, when the tessitura of Butterfly’s position appeared to pressure Ermonela Jaho. Because the opera progressed, and as Jaho’s dramatic dedication, bordering on possession, took over, she moved in a particular approach that heightened a way of each issues and alternatives within the work ‘itself’, her last scene as true and mandatory a climax as one might hope for. Smith’s thankless position was extra ‘straightforwardly’ convincing, as likely it needs to be. He didn’t flinch from having us detest him, balancing the tough imperatives of vanity in character and thoughtfulness of portrayal. Fujimura’s self-revelation was deeply spectacular all through, while Lionel Lhote (likely with Breth’s assist) offered a compassionate, understanding, subtly memorable Sharpless. With smaller roles all properly taken, there was a robust sense of unity in larger dramatic service. Nearly regardless of itself, but additionally by itself account, this Aix manufacturing quietly, powerfully rethought and reimagined Puccini’s opera.

Mark Berry

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