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Butterfly Flutters Again

New York
Metropolitan Opera
02/19/2016 -  & February 22, 27, March 2*, 5, 17, 21, 25, 29, April 2, 6, 9, 12, 2016
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Gwyn Hughes Jones (Pinkerton), Tony Stevenson (Goro), Maria Zifchak (Suzuki), Artur Rucinski (Sharpless), Latonia Moore (Cio-Cio-San)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Karel Mark Chichon (conductor)
Anthony Minghella (production), Carolyn Choa (director and choreographer), Michael Levine (set designer), Han Feng (costumes), Peter Mumford (lighting designer), Blind Summit Theatre (puppetry)

L. Moore (© Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

In a cavalcade of revivals accompanied by one new production, Puccini’s operas feature commandingly at the Met this season. According to one estimate they compromise about 30 percent of all performances this year. Just a week after the tepidly received new showing of the composer’s Manon Lescaut premiered last month, the late Anthony Minghella’s tried and true production of Madama Butterfly returned. Now nearly a decade old, it shows some signs of wear. The striking colors of the stylized sets and fanciful Japanese costumes looked rather faded. The cast and chorus seemed to be going through the motions. But the production remains one of the few solid hits of Peter Gelb’s administration (though it was planned under his predecessor Joseph Volpe), and even last night’s mid-run performance boasted what looked like a full house.

Alas, those who braved a chilly March evening had but one real reason to cheer. For the only time this season, the emerging soprano Latonia Moore took on the title role, replacing an ailing Hei-Kyung Hong. Moore has not yet risen to the luster of her colleagues Kristine Opolais (concurrently starring in Manon Lescaut) or Ana María Martínez, but since her promising debut as Aida a few years ago, she has built a steady and well deserved following in New York. With a voice that might well be destined for even larger roles, she displayed roaring power in the role’s heights moderated by a cool tone that can contract to a finely sung piano. Dramatically, she proved a moving answer to the challenge of portraying a lovesick teenager who still retains a sympathetic sweetness. It is a pity, perhaps, that she had only this one performance.

A less fortunate casting choice was the light tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as Pinkerton. With only a pallid stage presence, he passed the evening with a noticeable lack of passion and even a pronounced disinterest in his Butterfly, even, curiously, at the moment of her suicide. For much of the first act, the voice could barely compete with the orchestra and the well sung and acted Goro of Tony Stevenson. Things hardly looked up thereafter. Artur Rucinski fared somewhat better in the stodgy role of Sharpless, the American consul, but even a talented baritone can seldom do much with the character. Maria Zifchak capably sang Butterfly’s devoted Suzuki, firmly maintaining her place in the staff of talented Met comprimario singers. Karel Mark Chichon led a passable performance.

Paul du Quenoy



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