Florentine Opera, "Madama Butterfly"
On Sunday, November 23rd, we opened this year’s Florentine Opera season attending a very fine production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” conducted by Maestro Joseph Rescigno. Although it was not without its flaws, we rated the performance much higher than did the Journal/Sentinel critic, who reviewed the Friday night performance with the same cast.
Soprano Robin Follman, in the title role, initially did not seem well suited to the part, since, in the first act, her powerful and mature voice was not what one would expect in the joyous fifteen-year-old Cio-cio San. However, any shortcoming was more than made for in the second and third acts, where the abandoned woman’s sorrow and passion are given full range.
Follman was well supported by mezzo Jennifer Hines, who had genuine warmth in both voice and acting as the loyal serving woman, Suzuki. Guido LeBron was very good as Sharpless, the American Consul who can only helplessly pity Butterfly. Scott Piper as the faithless Pinkerton sang well, although his acting was uninspired. Joel Sorenson provided both comic and dramatic support as Goro the procurer, and Colleen Brooks also very effective as Kate Pinkerton, the “innocent cause” of Butterfly’s sorrow. This was one area where we particularly disagreed with the newspaper critic, who did not “get” that Kate’s apparently aimless rambling on stage was due to the character’s “nerves” at intruding on Butterfly’s life.
The stage direction was, in some ways annoyingly uneven. Some of the characters were wonderfully natural, including Kate Pinkerton and “Sorrow” (Amelia Boerger), Butterfly’s child by Pinkerton, who has no lines, but very affectingly ran to Butterfly to comfort her when she was weeping, and otherwise acted on stage, unlike many children in these productions who are merely told to stand around and might as well be static props. Therefore, intrusions like Butterfly’s five masked servants (who resembled Chinese tomb statues, down to their clay-colored garments and masks) are rather jarring.
There was a nice painting-style backdrop that was occasionally lit in a garish and distracting manner, and, although all the women in the chorus had Japanese wigs, there were several men in the wedding scene with distinctly brown hair and western haircuts. Butterfly committed suicide in the proper fashion, with a stab to the throat, but then was directed to strain upstage towards Pinkerton’s voice, which resulted in her final expiration being a rather ungraceful flop to the stage.
That being said, I nevertheless think that if there was a dry eye in the house at the end, it can only have belonged to hardened opera fans.