Thursday 2 April 2015

Madama Butterfly, Deutsche Oper, 29 March 2015

Deutsche Oper, Berlin

Cio-Cio San – Hui He
Suzuki – Jana Kurucová
Kate Pinkerton – Stephanie Lauricella
Pinkerton – Fabio Sartori
Sharpless – Elia Fabbian
Goro – Gideon Poppe
Prince Yamadori – Jörg Schörner
The Bonze – Marko Mimica
Imperial Commissiner – Carlton Ford
Official Registrar – Thomas Lehman
Mother – Martina Metzler
Cousin – Saskia Meusel
Aunt – Keum-Shin Kwon
Child – Birte Weigelt

Pier Luigi Samaritani (director, designs)
Gerlinde Pelkowski (revival director)

Chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin (chorus master: William Spaulding)
Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper
Yves Abel (conductor)

For an evening off from the Staatsoper’s Festtage, I walked a little further up Bismarkstrasse to the Deutsche Oper, to see a revival of Pier Luigi Samritani’s Madama Butterfly. There is obviously no point in comparing the first night of a new Parsifal with such an instalment of the Deutsche Oper’s ‘Puccini weeks’, but by any standards, this very different evening did not do badly at all. There is not a great deal to say about the production; it looks very much like the other two productions I have seen of the work. (How I should love to see something different: say, Calixto Bieito’s staging for the Komische Oper!) But it does its job well in ‘traditional’ terms, and on this occasion, its 137th performance (!) since the premiere, benefits from keen revival direction by Gerlinde Pelkowski. Lovers of what might be called ‘conventionally beautiful’ Puccini stagings will be delighted, and doubtless will have been already. I am less sure about the use of sheets – often a device in such productions – which tends a little towards the bathetic, but it is not difficult to live with, even so.

Attention, then, is focused firmly on the musical performance, and especially on the singers. Yves Abel conducted the orchestra ably, without making any particular points. It was not the most symphonic Puccini I have heard, and certainly not the most modernistic, but by the same token, continuity was achieved. The orchestra could hardly be faulted, and I have no desire to try. When really given their head, the strings sounded gorgeous, the perfect compliment to a decidedly ‘traditional’ starring couple.

By that, I mean that these were big voices, employed to general audience delight. Hui He’s Cio-Cio San offered enormous dynamic range, sensitively deployed, although in the spirit of charity, I shall pass over her diction. Fabio Sartori’s Pinkerton was similarly ‘old school’, perhaps still more so. He will certainly win no prizes for his acting, but he showed that, in such repertoire, he would not be shamed by comparison with the starriest of Italian tenors. The first-act duet was, in musical terms, close to everything one might reasonably have hoped for. Jana Kurucová’s Suzuki was subtler, offering welcoming relief: a credible, indeed sympathetic character portrayal in its own right. Elia Fabbian’s Sharpless presented equivocation through musical strength: not the easiest achievement to bring off. Gideon Poppe’s Goro showed an alert stage as well as musical animal. I suspect we shall hear more from Stephanie Lauricella, the Kate Pinkerton. (I know she has little to sing, yet always find myself surprised by quite how little!) A highly creditable evening, then, for all concerned. I only wish the opera itself were a little less offensive and a little more ambiguous…