Opera & Ballet International at the National Concert Hall, 18 April 2015
Ellen Kent’s production company Opera & Ballet International returns to Dublin with two productions, ‘La Traviata’ and – tonight’s presentation – ‘Madama Butterfly’. Directed by Kent herself, as is usual with these tours, this show features a ready-made cast and production from Eastern Europe (in this case Ukraine and Moldova), passing through on a mammoth tour across Britain and Ireland that began back in the autumn.
Nadejda Shvets’ well-designed set – enormous printed back-cloth, Butterfly’s house centre-stage, and downstage garden setting – provides a classy and naturalistic backdrop for the action. The singers are all brilliantly-costumed, including an authentic kimono-clad-and-fan-waving female chorus. The staging is robust and straightforward, with clear entrances and exits. There is scant interest in reinterpreting or finding new insights in Puccini’s opera of tragic inequality. In fairness, there are no shortcuts either: the orchestra is live, the singers sing out, unamplified, and nothing notable has been taken out of the score. There are no mistakes.
Soprano Alyona Kistenyova sings the title role with a clear, well-focused voice. She brings a straightforward approach, well-projected and easy on the ear, without any hardness of tone. There is, however, little tenderness either, though the occasional moments of wit that Butterfly is allowed are brought out nicely. She is ably accompanied by mezzo Zarui Vardanean (Suzuki) who makes the most of her small role with warmth of tone. Of the men, tenor Giorgio Meladze brings out the thankless role of Pinkerton as well as can be expected, with some decent, if unsubtle, singing. The voice of veteran baritone Vladimir Dragos (Sharpless) on the other hand sounds worn, though his occasional vocal roughness is almost permissible with this character, as if bringing out the essential seediness of the American Consul’s role all the more. Nicolae Dohotaru conducts the small pit orchestra effectively, if a little briskly at times, and the ensemble plays well.
The sad story of Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly’s hopeless deception is relayed clearly and colourfully, but with little passion. The close of the first act, with the great love duet of Butterfly and Pinkerton, feels almost touching despite itself, but ultimately the production seems strangely disengaging. If it appears formulaic, that’s probably because that is what it is – a well-organised and well-packaged product that delivers affordable, respectable spectacle. The audience – almost a full house – knows what it’s getting and leaves satisfied. A curious fate for what was once one of Puccini’s riskiest operas.
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Cast: Alyona Kistenyova (Cio-Cio-San), Zanai Vardanean (Suzuki), Giorgio Meladze (Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton), Vladimir Dragos (Sharpless), Iurie Maimescu (Bonze), Ruslan Pacatovici (Goro), Gheorghe Barbanoi (Yamadori), Tatiana Chitoraga (Kate Pinkerton)
Director: Ellen Kent; Designer: Nadejda Shvets
Members of the orchestras of the National Opera & Ballet Theatre of Moldova and National Philharmonic of Moldova, conducted by Nicolae Dohotaru