A review by Julia Gasper.
Only yesterday we heard Kistenyova sing the rôle of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata and twenty-four hours later she took the equally demanding lead in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Both rôles were a triumph, and what a magnificent proof of her versatility and stamina! Kistenyova played the tragic Japanese heroine with unforgettable grace and poignancy. Her voice is thrilling, capable of grand effects, yet always precise and delicate in detail. And how different these two operas are: in Madame Butterfly, Puccini was determined to depart from established convention, and create a startlingly different sound-world. Without a doubt he does so, not just dabbling in quasi-Japanese sonorities, but replacing the overture with a jagged, contrapuntal theme that hastens us into the action, making us sit through an orchestral interlude in Act II that represents a whole night, and ending the score on a bold, harsh, cacaphonic discord.
In many ways this was a definitive production, with the fine tenor Giorgio Meladze as a dashing and handsome Pinkerton. From the start, there is a disturbing incongruity between his beautiful singing, and the utter callousness of his character. He makes romantic professions to a naive girl of fifteen, while boasting to the US consul (Vladimir Dragos) that he will soon desert her. If Pinkerton had been a weak and vacillating character, in love with Butterfly for a while, then when separated from her changing and becoming fickle or irresolute, he might seem more human. But no, he is as the original story makes him, a thick-skinned, selfish cad from the outset. Without a doubt there is an underlying imperialist, racist attitude here, that legitimizes, in his view, his exploitation of a foreign girl. And the assumption that it is better for her child to be taken away and brought up as an American is part of that. What mother would deny her child hamburgers and Disneyland? This of course, brings about the final tragedy.
There is nothing distant or mythical about the pain of parents whose children are taken away from them for forcible adoption; it is happening today. The suffering of Butterfly is a very contemporary, relevant one for us, as is the issue of the rights of the child. So it is with a deep sense of uneasiness, that we enjoy the opera as spectacle. Nothing has been spared to create a vision of Japan – the gardens, the statues, the house of sliding paper panels, the gorgeous silk kimonos, the incense, the splendid warrior costume of the Bonze, majestically sung by Iurie Maimescu, who brought out the major significance of this relatively short role, and the finery and dignity of Yamadoroi (Gheorghe Barbanoi). The use of figures silhouetted behind a thin screen is ingenious and effective. But how troubling it is to hear that the setting of the entire opera Madame Butterfly is none other than Nagasaki. Yes. That Nagasaki. History has added another layer to the discomfort generated by this tale of cruelty.
Every lover of opera should see this production, which is in many ways definitive. And we look forward to hearing more of the future career of the exciting soprano Kistenyova.
Julia Gasper. 22/02/15.
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