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Nov 6th, 2017
Silence, on any stage, is a powerful tool in the director's armoury, and the opening few minutes of Anthony Minghella's production is mesmerising in its intensity.
Cio-Cio-San enters from the rear of the stage in utter silence, and the opening scene unfolds with more than just a hint of the emotional intensity that is to come in Puccini's masterpiece. The audience is forced to engage in a way that is mildly unsettling, relieved only by the arrival of the opening bars of music after what seems like a suspension of time.
The audience's focus is now completely on Act I and the evening adventure of getting to the Lincoln Center, finding their seats and settling-in are gone. Concentration is intense and so the story of Cio-Cio-San and Lieutenant Pinkerton unfolds in all the beauty and heartbreak with which Puccini infused this most magical of operas.
The Metropolitan Opera House is a vast performance space, and for any artist approaching the role of Cio-Cio-San this is the Olympics of Opera, the Superbowl of singing, the moment that they have to be at their absolute peak to deliver a performance that gets measured against all the greats who have gone before since the opera premiered in 1907 at La Scala in Milan. And herein lies the biggest challenge of this opera. To be that incredible you're going to have to be a good 20 years older than the 15 year old geisha around which this story revolves.
Hui He is, in reality, in her mid-forties, but completely delivers the naive blindness of youth, and the optimism of innocence that Puccini weaves so well. Her role as the shy young girl marrying the dashing US naval officer is utterly compelling, crowned in the most magical end to Act I as the stage transforms with simplistic elegance into another world that transcends reality and sets up the monumental aria that arrives at the beginning of Act II.
This, to my eyes, was the triumph of this production. The sets are minimal, the effects delicate and intense, but all the focus is on the story and the characters themselves. When Act II opens the stage is almost bare with Suzuki and Cio-Cio-San alone in the house with paper walls awaiting the promised return of Pinkerton. This moment is the art form of opera at its very best as the young girl stakes everything that she is on his faithful return. Nothing is left in the locker-room would be my sporting analogy.
Whether you're a veteran of the opera, or a total newcomer, this is a production that merits attention and has rightly been described as a modern classic. It does honor to the masterpiece that Puccini created and to the superb achievement of the artists on stage. But most of all it tells a timeless story of love and betrayal, flawlessly. Bravo!
View our show pages for more information about Metropolitan Opera - Madama Butterfly, Metropolitan Opera House.
Metropolitan Opera House: Open Run
Anthony Minghella's breathtakingly beautiful and powerfully dramatic production returns, with the lead roles of Cio-Cio San shared by Hui He and Ana Maria Martinez. Widely known as the opera that inspired...more info
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