The Madonna of Ultimate Sacrifices: Madama Butterfly 2022.IV.19 (Lontano lontano)
Updated: Jul 25
Il luogotenente Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton («Pinky») • Brian Jagde
Goro • Scott Scully
Suzuki • Elizabeth DeShong
Il console Sharpless • David Bizic (Bižić)
Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) • Eleonora Buratto
La mamma di Cio-Cio-San • Marie Te Hapuku
La zia di Cio-Cio-San • Anne Nonnemacher
La cugina di Cio-Cio-San • Elizabeth Sciblo
Lo zio Yakusidè • Craig Montgomery
L'imperial commissario • Bradley Garvin
L'ufficiale del registro • Juhwan Lee
Lo zio Bonzo • Raymond Aceto
Il ricco Yamadori • Jeongcheol Cha
Kate Pinkerton • Edyta Kulczak
direttore • Alexander Soddy
After a two-week-plus hiatus in the midst of an extended run, the Tuesday 04/19 Butterfly reprise was overheard From Up in the Gods. The score was performed note-complete, retaining the often-cut 42 bars of wedding party persiflage between rehearsal numbers 61 and 63; the names «F.B. Pinkerton» and «Omara» were consistently corrected to «B.F. Pinkerton» and «Omura».
Reencountering the opera on site in real time reaffirmed one's preference in live performances for a degree of propulsion to balance out the score's high percentage of sostenuto. Conductor Alexander Soddy paced the company moderately at Tempi Soddysfacenti; greater stringency would have better supported his cast's impulses to move forward in the conversations of Act II. He could have further helped them by exerting over the orchestra a tighter control governed by a vigilant ear for the voices—the peak example being the orchestral tutti underlining Butterfly's final sung phrases «Guarda ben! amore, addio! addio, piccolo amor!».
Recognizing in reverse order the cadre of comprimari:
• soft-grained mezzo Edyta Kulczak a gentle Kate Pinkerton;
• the wealthy Yamadori here rich in voice thanks to Jeongcheol Cha;
• lo zio Bonzo sung bluntly by Raymond Aceto, his vocal impact done no favors by his far upstage placement;
• Bradley Garvin's round-toned, steady-pitched imperial commissario, who bested several of his peers by clearly enunciating the vowel /u/ on the high E-natural of «d'unirsi in matrimonio»;
— the latter-day American baritone difficulty with that vowel has been addressed
• Elizabeth Sciblo delightfully feisty as la cugina who has allegedly rebuffed a previous offer to become Madama Pinkerton;
• clear-toned Scott Scully projecting Goro's every note and syllable into the Met space with full character intent.
Four-and-a-half months after Cavaradossi, the role of lo Yankee vagabondo further acquainted one with Brian Jagde's vocal characteristics. He's got Pinky's vocal swagger all the way to the six B-flats (the concluding C of Act I vibrated under the pitch center), he readily expresses rashness (more so than romance and remorse), and the tonal oscillations noted in the Tosca were partially mitigated here by this role's rich orchestral cushioning. Jagde's beefy vocalism is barely seasoned by linguistic relish, his Italian diligently prepared—he does have a habit of clipping the sound at double consonants and occasionally «swings» his rhythms (e.g. «Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia»)—but wanting in those gustatory inflections that would animate Pinky's utterances towards Goro, Sharpless, Suzuki, Butterfly, and even his apostrophe to the «flowery refuge of contentment and love».
(One couldn't shake the feeling that some of Suzuki's lighter-hearted reactions might have been more suitable for a Mikado, ma vabbè.)
Elizabeth DeShong's Suzuki was a voice lesson, buttery tone undisturbed in the frequent crossing between central and bottom registers, chest resonance ever available yet never hardening the sound, and the hint of an Italianate sob on the high G «Piangerà tanto, tanto!»
Il signor Console David Bizic accomplished the operatic stage's elusive goal of actively listening and responding to one's scene partners. By dint of vocal inflection he audibly communicated Sharpless's gravitas and compassion, his idiomatic Italian borne into the house on caffè-corretto-hued tone.
At the heart of the opera held sway Eleonora Buratto, by sheer vocal craft a Butterfly utterly feminine, generous in love, and perpetually responsive to the events unfolding around her. (This series of performances is doubly notable for Buratto's role debut run—this evening being only her sixth-ever Cio-Cio-San—as for introducing the Met's first madrelingua Butterfly in 20 years!)
Buratto's is a lyric instrument—tinged by an obsidian sheen and enlivened by a vibrato that gives it an aspect of tonal freshness, even sweetness—which she knows how to project without exceeding her means. As with any artist over the course of a prolix role, much less her maiden voyage thereof, there were bug-or-feature habits and choices: onsets under-pitch to convey girlishness in Act I, onsets in and beyond the passaggio achieved by scooping, and in the heat of the moment, quick phrasal onsets started off the breath.
For me, these were counterbalanced by Buratto's vocal and interpretative savvy: the surprise of climactic toptones touched gently—e.g. in «Che tua madre», the G-flats/F-sharps of «la Ghesha ca(-a-)nterà!» and «in un singhiozzo finirà!»—and a bottom-to-central zone which she emboldened with adroit pettosità—e.g. the F-to-D-natural span of «Oggi il mio nome è "Dolore". Però», but even to F-sharp, a sensitive vocal-turning point, on «Tornerà… Dillo con me» immediately before «Un bel dì».
Above all, Buratto's vocalism is inextricable from her verbal enthusiasm: she presents a definite «vocal-aural face», acoustically transmitting the character's mercurial emotional life by her very articulation of vowels and consonants. A welcome rebuke to the US tendency of homogenizing tone and pronunciation: merely by listening, we got to know Buratto's Butterfly and thus we were able to care about her—Puccinian goal scored.
Score clarification regarding Albert Innaurato's program note citing «The thunderous final chord, which adds the note G to a B-minor chord» (i.e. resulting in a half-step/minor-second dissonance between F-sharp and G). No: right from «Tu! tu! piccolo Iddio!» Puccini anchors the final scene in B minor, and the orchestra initially resolves on the tonic B in octaves—implied B minor resolution without the other necessary chord tones. However, the delayed «shock» chord superimposed is unadulterated G major, the same harmony outlined in the first nine notes of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, void of any pitch clash.
What Puccini could do with the common chord!