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A mixed revival of Butterfly

New York
The Metropolitan Opera House
01/16/2014 -  & January 20*, 24, 28, Feb 1, 7, April 4, 9, 12, 15, 19, May 1, 5, 9, 2014
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Amanda Echalaz (Cio-Cio-San), Bryan Hymel (Pinkerton), Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki), Scott Hendricks (Sharpless),
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (chorus master), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Philippe Auguin/Pierre Vallet* (conductor)
Anthony Minghella (production), Carolyn Choa (director and choreographer), Michael Levine (set designer), Han Feng (costume designer), Peter Mumford (lighting designer), Blind Summit Theatre (puppetry)

A. Echalaz & B. Hymel (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)

The late Anthony Minghella's much lauded production of Puccini's classic melodrama returns to the Met this season, one of its frequent revivals since it premiered in 2006. Auguring a promising beginning to the Peter Gelb era, few subsequent efforts at the Met have reached its level of inspiration and creativity. The details are all well known and need little repeating here. Minghella discarded the traditional approach and based his sets on simple sliding walls, brilliant costumes, and a large mirror above the stage that reflects the action below. The effect is usually mesmerizing, with much of the "behind the curtains" action visible via the mirror, and Butterfly's suicide unfolding doubly, as both a vast red cloth representing her blood and its mirror image unfold at the same time. The bunaku puppet used to represent her son with Pinkerton is deployed with more restraint and less annoyance than has been the case in past seasons.

It is a pity that the Met has had little luck in casting a satisfactory Butterfly in all these years. The current revival presents Amanda Echalaz in the title role. While occasionally flashing brilliant notes, especially in the duets, and well acted overall, her interpretation's general tone sounded hollow. Too often the part's beauty was sacrificed to raw projection. The role of Pinkerton was better served by the rising star tenor Bryan Hymel, who came to major attention last season in his surprise debut as Enée in Berlioz's Les Troyens. Blessed with a huge, clarion voice, he made Pinkerton seem almost an effortless role, so easy in fact that a more pedantic critic might suggest that he not take things too fast lest the voice's attractive sheen wear out too soon. Scott Hendricks sang impressively as Sharpless, the diplomatic role that rarely seems to emerge in much relief. Elizabeth DeShong's excellent mezzo served the supporting role of Suzuki very well. An ailing Philippe Auguin was replaced in the pit by Pierre Vallet, who had assisted in the revival's musical preparation. He led a competent performance that occasionally lagged in tempo. The first scene of Act II was positively glacial.

Butterfly will return with a different cast later in the spring and continue in the repertoire until the end of the current season.

Paul du Quenoy



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