2016 Metropolitan Opera: 'Madama Butterfly' Review: Kristine Opolais Delivers Heart-Breaking Turn for the Ages
Two seasons ago, Kristine Opolais gave a tremendous performance of Puccini's perennial masterwork "Madama Butterfly," breaking the hearts of Metropolitan Opera audiences with the plight of the abandoned wife and mother.
A Butterfly For the Ages
Experiencing Opolais' Butterfly two years later is an even more heart-wrenching performance. On one hand, all of the fantastic nuance and development of her previous interpretation is still intact. Opolais, while in her 30s, plays the part of the 15-year-old girl to perfect. She shies away from Pinkerton at some points. She toys with her relatives at others.
Opolais' voice even took on a lighter complexion that would grow in strength and heft as Butterfly aged three-years in the second and third act. The singing as always was passionately assured, with her climactic high note at the end of her entrance bringing about enthusiastic and unexpected applause. And when it came to the pain and suffering of Butterfly, it was impossible not be with her on the entire journey, the sense of abandonment growing and growing for her Cio-Cio San. That final aria "Tu? Tu? Piccolo Iddio!" was an emotional tour-de-force, Opolais' voice at its most potent, every phrase sung with a growing fortissimo, giving the sense of this character on her last emotional legs, the suicide readily apparent.
What made this interpretation different in some ways from the 2014 one is the sense of tragedy that permeated her Butterfly from the get-go. From the moment that the Bonze forsook her, Opolais was already on the floor in prone position, the most humbling and vulnerable position for any human being to be in. During the duet, she skirted away from Pinkerton, almost as if on a deeper subconscious level, this Butterfly sensed the danger that he presented and was more unwilling to give in right away. This was best expressed in her delicate "Vogliatemi bene," her voice a sliver of sound that not only made her sound like a gentle child, but also suggested a truly defenseless being at his mercy. This was furthered by Opolais' aggressive retorts to Pinkerton's "Come t'han ben nomata tenue farfalle (How aptly named you are my slender butterfly").
This aggressive retort actually played into Opolais's characterization with Cio-Cio San actually showcasing her violent potential at a number of times throughout the evening. During an early argument with Suzuki in Act 2, Opolais jumped up from her spot next to her friend and confidante and moved to the opposite side of the stage trying to contain her anger. But the gesture, which established Cio-Cio San standing over Suzuki as a means of regaining control of the situation, hinted at what was to come.
Early on in Act 2, as she looked to stave off Goro's gossip, her body suddenly contorted and her hands went up and about as she tried to figure out whether she wanted to attack him or not. It was a moment of emotional and physical discomfort for this Butterfly, but hinted that she might not be afraid of resorting to violence in a dire situation related to her child.
Later on in the opera, she took one more step toward violent action when she finally learned of Pinkerton's betrayal. She grabbed flowers from the ever-loyal Suzuki and heaved them across the room in stupefied anger. At this point, Opolais' Butterfly stood in stupor at her own aggression, looking down at the mess she had made and moving to rectify it. Of course, this all led to the final action of Butterfly committing suicide, with Opolais' eyes determined and unafraid. She had come to terms with her violent end and was ready for it, no longer shocked at how far she could go.
A Solid Supporting Cast
In the role of Pinkerton was tenor Roberto De Biasio, who made an auspicious debut in the title role of "Ernani" a few seasons back. The tenor has an elegant voice with solid phrasing and a good connection between his mid-voice and upper range. Unfortunately, his voice is of a lighter quality and while suited to early Verdi, is not strong enough to overcome the potent Puccini orchestra. Time again, his gorgeous voice would be flooded out by the swelling of the orchestra. He had a solid stage presence, his gait coming off as more suave and less intimidating and narcissistic. His interaction with Butterfly during the duet did suggest sexual desire and less sympathy, but that was nicely countered with the remorseful expression that he sported on his face throughout his return in the final act.
Maria Zifchak and Dwayne Croft both returned to the production in the roles of Suzuki and Sharpless respectively. Both gave poignant performances in support of Opolais. Zifchak's Suzuki played up the sense of inevitable disappointment which really gave Opolais' resistance to the truth greater dramatic weight. Croft's Sharpless carried a burden throughout the night, adding to his sense of guilt in the tragedy unfolding. It was a stark reminder of the impact the overall drama had not just on Cio-Cio San, but also the other people that truly cared for her. Croft's own deeply internalized portrayal made the audience grapple between following him and Opolais' riveting turn, but the potent dynamics only added to the magic of the evening.
Magic on Stage and in the Pit
And magic there was in what remains one of the best productions under the Peter Gelb management. There were some subtle changes overall, but this production, from its bare stage, to the magical sliding doors, to the glorious lighting throughout (and even at the curtain calls) makes for riveting viewing from the moment it starts until the final curtain drops under the weight of applause (for more on the production, click here).
In the pit, Karel Mark Chichon drew glorious sounds from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Given Opolais' fantastic vocal resources, the orchestra seemed free to push its sound to its most powerful, giving Puccini's emotional score the extra push to crush the audience. Sometimes the sound could overpower certain singers, but there can be no doubt that audiences were left transfixed.
Opolais' time as Cio-Cio San in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" might be drawing to a close soon, making the need to see her all the more urgent. She is undeniably the Butterfly of our times, astounding us with assured singing while devastating us with nuanced character and tremendous emotional investment.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!