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This review is from: Puccini: Madama Butterfly [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
I know it's one of the most performed and most popular crowd-pleasers in the opera repertoire, but so perfect an opera is Madama Butterfly, that it doesn't need any modern revisionism or high concept staging, since it already works on multiple levels. If you just want it to see it as a straightforward clash between Japanese and American culture that inevitably results in tragedy, then that's more than enough for it to work successfully. There are however other clashes, divisions and incompatibilities brought out in the opera - from the division of imperialism and isolationism, destiny or self-determination, modernity versus tradition to simply the clash of ideals between men and women in respect of what each of them hope to gain from a relationship. All these ideas exist in Madama Butterfly, and some of them can be tweaked for emphasis in individual productions, but they are all there to be drawn out by the listener in even the most basic of stagings.
Directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, this production for the Sferisterio Opera Festival in Macerata in 2009 isn't exactly basic, but it is fairly traditional, aiming for a stylised Japanese setting with silk kimonos, bamboo and paper houses on wooden struts and a cherry tree in bloom. Puccini's Madama Butterfly can bear such idealism, since in many respects, there is an unrealistic idealism in the minds of the two main protagonists, the American sailor B.F. Pinkerton and the young 15 year-old Japanese bride he has bought, Cio-Cio-San, known as Butterfly - both clearly have different ideas about what they expect to gain out of this arrangement. This production makes use of the interlude music after the Humming Song to introduce a dreamlike ballet sequence that depicts this idealised version of the relationship, perhaps in Butterfly's mind as she sleeps awaiting the return of Pinkerton, and it's a nice touch that works very well with this idea.
The other notable thing about this production is the open-air performance at the arena which is not traditionally theatre shaped. The long wings to the side of the stage however are well used for processional marches, as well as giving a greater sense of isolation of Cio-Cio-San from the world outside. The walls behind the stage however do add to the reverb on the voices, but not in any overly detrimental way. It does tend to lend a stridency to the singing of Raffaella Angeletti who can certainly hold the high notes as Butterfly, but doesn't have the delicacy that is required in other passages. She does however certainly deliver where she needs to. Massimiliano Pisapia is a robust and traditional Pinkerton, alternating between confidence and cowardice, between being arrogant and being loving. I liked the tone of his voice here throughout. Claudio Sgura's Sharpless demonstrates good clear diction, but the microphone or the mixing gives his voice too much reverb, and consequently both his voice and Angeletti's can occasionally be a little piercing in places.
Overall however, the singing is good and this is a fine production of Madama Butterfly, presented on a fine Blu-ray with a strong picture and - allowing for the slight extra reverb of the open-air location - good sound-mixes in PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1.