Saturday, July 10, 2010

Madama Butterfly in Verona

There is no experience quite like opera in the Arena di Verona. The space is huge. 20,000 people can view an opera at the same time.

There are three categories of seats: on the floor of the arena where the gladiators would have fought there are very expensive seats with a bar area; reserved seats on bleachers put up over the ancient stone seats; and open seating on the bare stones above.

We had excellent seats in the first tier of bleachers on the side. This time the stone steps into the arena were not too steep.

As the opera begins the people in the side seats light candles. This is a tradition from before the time the arena was electrified.

The space that is the stage for the opera is gigantic, and it is this vastness that changes the character of the opera. The vastness seems ideal for Turandot or Aida, but I'm not sure it enhances ones perception of Madama Butterfly, our opera experience last night.

The Arena di Verona is in its 88th season, and the season is dedicated to Franco Zeffirelli. The program has an interview with him, and all five productions--Aida, Turandot, Carmen, Madama Butterfly and Il Trovatore--are his productions. I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't bought the program.

In the opening scene Pinkerton and Sharpless meet in what looks like a city street with people coming and going across the vast arena stage.

I always avoid Butterlfy like the plague. What is one to make of a man who brags to one and all that he travels the world ruining the lives of as many women as he can. Cio Cio San does not see this. She is proud to be a Yankee wife and always hopes for the best.  It's just unbearable.

Svetla Vassileva as Butterfly began disastrously with a giant wobble and a lot of out of tune over singing. Perhaps she couldn't hear, always a terrible problem for a singer. I had a moment of panic. I'm absolutely not prepared for sitting through a really bad Butterfly. She played Butterfly as a true butterfly who flutters from place to place.

Or perhaps it is a tactic. If one begins with a ghastly out of tune wobble, everything that follows will seem like an improvement. She moved toward the front of the stage where she could hear and pulled herself together.

Rossana Rinaldi was a fine Suzuki and Carlo Ventre was fine as Pinkerton. The big moments were effective.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

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