Opera Reviews
28 September 2020
Untitled Document

An engaging Butterfly in Torre del Lago

by Silvia Luraghi

Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Festival Puccini
8 August 2020

Shoko Okada (Cio Cio San)

Despite a reduced program, the Puccini Festival managed to present three new productions, Tosca and Butterfly in the open air theater at Torre del Lago, preceded by a performance of Gianni Schicchi, staged in nearby Viareggio at the end of June, which was the first post-COVID operatic production fully staged in Europe.

For the two operas performed in Torre del Lago admittance was reduced to one third of the venue’s total capacity resulting in 1,000 places, which easily sold out every night. I was at the premiere of Butterfly, and found the atmosphere cheerful and relaxed, in spite of the virus containment measures that were carefully enforced.

The opera was performed with an intermission, contrary to most performances since the end of the lockdown. In the beautiful setting of the open air stage, with the natural background of the lake, the production directed by Manu Lalli, who also designed the sets and the costumes, offered an impressive and colorful picture. The director chose an ecological approach to the opera and staged the action as if immersed in nature: trees on the stage surrounded a torii, the typical Japanese gate, which in this case hinted at the westerners’ intrusion into Japanese culture. The bright green color of the trees contrasted with the red costumes of the geishas among which Pinkerton was impatiently waiting for Cio Cio San. The girl came, also dressed in red, with her relatives. Negative characters wore black: Goro, the uncle Bonzo, prince Yamadori, and so did Butterfly in the second part of the performance, after Pinkerton abandoned her.

In this opera, the role of the protagonist is very prominent, as Cio Cio San does much of the singing and acting, and the director was lucky to find in soprano Shoko Okadaa a very compelling singer actor, who portrayed a passionate Cio Cio San. Her Butterfly had a youthful and naïve side yet she clearly already knew life, and one sensed that even her commitment to her unfaithful lover left some room for uncertainty. Vocally, the soprano mastered the role without hesitation, producing an impressive volume of voice, and at the end of the performance sounded as fresh  as at the beginning.

At her side, tenor Raffaele Abete was also very compelling in his rendition of a reckless young rascal. Mezzo Annunziata Vestri was a very engaging Suzuki who really cared for Cio Cio San and tried to protect her, and  baritone Alessandro Luongo highlighted Sharpless’ role as a counterpart to Pinkerton’s thoughtlessness. All other singers were equally compelling, not only vocally, but also as actors, including Francesco Napoleoni as Goro, Roberto Accurso as Yamadori, Davide Mura as Il Bonzo, and all those playing the smaller roles. Clearly, the stage director had been able to work with all of them and found a responsive cast, with outstanding results.

The chorus, instructed by Roberto Ardigò, gave a very good contribution, especially in the famous humming chorus at the end of the second act. The  orchestra of the Puccini Festival was skillfully conducted by Enrico Calesso. The performance enjoyed a great success, with cheers and applause for everyone.

Text © Silvia Luraghi
Photo © Festival Puccini
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