Top critical review
Seriously flawed production which is musically excellent but suffers from inconsistency in its different visual design concept
on 23 October 2015
This 2004 production of Madama Butterfly from the Puccini Festival, staged at the lakeside theatre at Torre del Lago, is interesting but ultimately unsatisfactory. It uses the obvious idea of dressing all the characters as insects following the lead of having Cio Cio San herself dressed as a Butterfly in the first Act, though looking rather more like a sheep in later Acts. This is the root of the problem with this production, the insect costuming is a good (if obvious) idea if it were done well but here it is not. There are some costumes that are good. I especially like the caterpillar costume worn by all the relatives at the wedding, and Madama Butterfly's own costume is good in Act 1, but most of the rest of the costumes do not really create a believable insect look for the performers. The other major problem is that this approach to the opera is not used in any meaningful way in the action or for the overall look of the production. The stage scenery ressembles a collapsed building or perhaps a building site. There is no carry through of the insect theme into the setting or the activity on stage. This being the case, the design actually detracts from the opera as a whole rather than bringing any new ideas or insights. There are one or two interesting visual moments and costume touches but nothing more.
Another more minor problem is that with the exception of a couple of fans for Butterfly and a couple of chairs, no props are used and so a lot of the activity becomes mime and looks rather silly, again detracting from the believability of the whole production
The reason that I have give this performance three stars is because it has a major positive element and that is the music and the singing. Placido Domingo is the conductor of Orchestra CittaLirica and under his baton all the lush beauty of one of Puccini's greatest scores comes out from an orchestra which plays extremely well and a sound recording that captures all the detail exceptionally well for a live outdoor performance. Added to this the four main soloists are excellent. Daniela Dessi is vocally superb as Butterfly, she looks too old of course, but that is true of virtually all sopranos capable of singing this role. With this costuming and makeup, however, it really doesn't matter and she acts the part very well within the limitations of the production silliness. The veteran Juan Pons is vocally and dramatically excellent as the American consul Sharpless and gives a very persuasive and convincing portrayal of the role even though he appears to be dressed as a cricket (allusions to Jiminy Cricket perhaps ?). Fabio Armiliato whilst dressed as some kind of biker storm-trooper still manages to produce powerful, controlled vocals of real quality. The great love duet is very well done even though the usual atmosphere is completely lost in this setting and costume regime. Rossana Rinaldi is an excellent actress with a firm beautiful mezzo voice and seems to be able to portray her own role as Suzuki very effectively in a costume that somehow does suggest the character she is playing.
Overall then this is a musically excellent performance which has potentially interesting costuming but which is let down by the fact that the concept is not consistently carried through in all aspects of the production and therefore fails to give a new insight into the drama and ultimately detracts from the sheer beauty and atmosphere of one of Puccini's most beguiling and romantic tragedies.