Magazine article The Spectator

Ideal Incarnation

Magazine article The Spectator

Ideal Incarnation

Article excerpt

Opera Ideal incarnation Madama Butterfly; Cecilia Bartoli Royal Opera House

When the Royal Opera's new production of Madama Butterfly opened in March, I was moved by the powerful performance of Cristina Gallardo-Domas in the title role, but not by a great deal else about it. Now that it has returned for its first revival, with alternating casts, of which I saw the second, it yields more all-round satisfaction. It is already 'directed' by someone new, Justin Way, having been 'produced' by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. I was struck by the extent to which they left the cast to fend for themselves, and by how completely they eschewed taking any particular slant on the opera, as if they knew it would be performed by many very different artists, and were leaving room for them to realise their own conception of the work and the characters.

That is a welcome sign, though I, perhaps perversely, felt that the production team had gone too far, so that even more than usual Butterfly seemed a monodrama with the other characters merely present to provide musical company. What was odd was that the musical side of things drew insistent attention to itself, since it was in the hands of Antonio Pappano, nothing if not an 'interventionist'. One felt he must be making points with so idiosyncratic a reading of the score, but looked on stage and found no visual or histrionic equivalents.

This revival was notable for the idiomatic and sympathetic conducting of Philippe Auguin, and for Amanda Roocroft's debut in the title role. The only major survivor from March is the Pinkerton of Marco Berti. He has not been persuaded to be less stentorian; for the whole of the first scene, much of it purely conversational, up to the entry of Butterfly, he shouts. Yet as soon as she appears, he shows that he is able to sing with tender restraint, though once their big duet gets under way he returns to the level of volume at which he seems happiest. Why is he allowed to do it? It's anti-musical and it wears you down. He is partnered, too, by an especially delicate Cio-Cio-San, so the relationship seems mistaken in more ways than usual.

I wondered, as a passionate admirer of Roocroft, whether she would be up to the role, surely one of the longest and most draining in the whole repertoire, and one for which the singer needs her biggest guns for the last five minutes. After a tremulous - and too distant - entry, she was a virtually ideal incarnation of Puccini's most complete and most unsentimentally drawn heroine. …

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