Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera 2010
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
returned to the Santa Fe Opera in 12 years this month. Not that anyone was likely to have missed it considering how omnipresent the work is. But Santa Fe has managed to put together a show that is quite convincing and very involving if somewhat pedestrian in its scope. Director Lee Blakeley and his design team have gone for a minimal almost neo-realist look. While Butterfly
is often an opera drenched in color, here it is gray-to-beige scale reproduction of turn-of-the-last-century Japan as if from some old photograph. The set is dominated by the square Japanese-American home of the sliding doors that will occupy Butterfly’s thoughts throughout the evening. It rotates at several pivotal moments revealing the cast inside as well as the moon and other effects with just the sliding of a few doors. Much of the action takes place downstage from the house, but it's an effective (if obvious) symbol. The acts change with little demarcation other than the arrival of power lines running through Butterfly’s front yard indicating that Trouble and in-home electricity arrived about the same time in Japan. It looks a bit odd, but arguably serves the same symbolic purpose.
The performances are of the typical Santa Fe quality, featuring some of the best and brightest American singers including Brandon Jovanovich as Pinkerton and Kelly Kaduce in the title role. What the two lacked in vocal fireworks was made up for in some part by the shrewd casting of the blond, tall and handsome Jovanovich opposite the petite Kaduce heightening from the beginning the sense of contrast in this ill-fated match. Jovanovich’s profile has skyrocketed over the last two year with meat and potatoes roles like Don Jose in big houses like the Met. I’ve liked him in L.A.
and San Francisco on prior outings, but he did sound a little slow to start on the Friday I saw the show. Kaduce has made Butterfly one of her signature roles and she performs it admirably with much more zeal and emotion than what I’ve come to expect. This is not a Butterfly who is all about restraint. She gets royally pissed off when she is spurned and not simply going gently into that good night. Kaduce was just a wee bit shrill at times for my taste and I could have used a little more Italianate warmth along the way, but she certainly has the requisite power and sounded good outdoors. Anthony Walker led the Santa Fe Opera orchestra through a heavily-percussive performance that wasn’t mechanical but could have sounded a little bigger at times. Still, in all, this is a show that works far more often than it doesn’t. And while it may not have the lustrous color or cinematic scope popular for many contemporary Madama Butterfly
productions, it’s focus on basic elements is satisfying.
Labels: Santa Fe Opera 10