November 12, 2012 - Larry Fuchsberg for Star Tribune
November 11, 2012 - Rob Hubbard for Pioneer Press
November 11, 2012 - William Fietzer for Examiner.com
September 25, 2012 - Michael Anthony for MinnPost.com
September 24, 2012 - Larry Fuchsberg for Star Tribune
September 24, 2012 - Rob Hubbard for Pioneer Press
September 23, 2012 - William Fietzer for Examiner.com
September 23, 2012 - Graydon Royce for Star Tribune
William Fietzer, Examiner.com
The early 20th century exposed the need of curbing the unbridled excesses of Western expansionism that marked the Victorian Age. Emulating such naturalistic writers as Emile Zola and Upton Sinclair, John Luther Long delineated the social fallout that resulted from the confluence of different cultures in a short story that playwright David Belasco dramatized for the stage and from which verismo composer Giacomo Puccini adapted into his operatic masterpiece, Madame Butterfly.
All of Puccini's musical, thematic, and emotional facets were on brilliant display at the Minnesota Opera's premiere of his work at the Ordway Theater Saturday night. The orchestra's rendition of the score captured every impressionistic nuance and color of scene and mood that mark Puccini's characters and situations. The minimalist staging with its sliding bamboo doors and imaginary garden reflected the weaknesses of Japanese law and custom at the time. And the acting by all the performers from John Robert Lindsay's mincing depiction of the marriage broker Goro to Levi Hernandez's version of the ineffectual diplomat Sharpless embodied the personal and functional limitations of their respective cultures.
Michael Anthony, Star Tribune
Minnesota Opera is ending its 49th season on a high note: a poignant, sensitively staged, adroitly sung revival of its 2004 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly."
The late Colin Graham, the revered English director, staged this "Butterfly" the first time around. This is an opera whose story is so direct and affecting that it doesn't easily lend itself to heavy directorial and ideological concepts. Simple and truthful is better in the case of "Butterfly," and Graham, it would seem, held that view.
Neil Patel's set, made up chiefly of interlocking Japanese screens, forms a back-drop for the characters' uncluttered, flowing movements, some of which show off a touch of Kabuki theater. It's obvious that Graham, a practicing Buddhist, knew a thing or two about Japanese culture, the result of which is that it's almost as if we're seeing the story from a Japanese point of view rather than from the perspective of an Italian -- Puccini himself -- or of an American, that of Lt. Pinkerton, the Naval officer who buys the 15-year-old Butterfly and then leaves her, pregnant and outcast by her family, while he returns home to acquire "a real American wife."
Giacomo Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" is among the world's most popular operas, yet, in many ways, it's a tough opera to love.
While Puccini's music is magnificent, it's used to tell a pretty discomfiting story: An American naval officer marries a 15-year-old Japanese girl in Nagasaki. Part of her family shuns her, while the rest are driven away by the officer, who subsequently abandons her, sails for America and marries again while the girl slowly runs out of food and money while awaiting his return.
Yet the Minnesota Opera's production does so many things right that the work's problematic premise is well worth overlooking. With acting and design ideas that demonstrate both respect and affection for Japanese tradition, it's a staging full of insight. And soprano Kelly Kaduce delivers such a tour de force as the title character that she alone makes this a production well worth experiencing.
Jay Gabler, TC Daily Planet
I've recently become hooked on a poignant blog called Old Loves. The blog is simply a series of photos of past celebrity couples, presented with little or no commentary. It's compelling not only as a time capsule (Jim Carrey dated her?), but as a testament to the eternal spring of hope. These are people leading lives that are not conducive to long-term relationships, and yet they keep trying—dating and marrying again and again and again, hoping that this time, against all odds, those promises will be kept.
Puccini's classic opera Madame Butterfly would make an apt soundtrack to that blog. The eponymous teenager, a Japanese girl preparing to marry an American naval officer, is warned by everyone in her family that the match will end in ruin—but she determinedly chooses to take the risk, to gamble that her fiancé Pinkerton is a good man who will never leave her. Act One is about the budding of that hope, and Act Two is about its tragic end.
Larry Fuchsberg, Star Tribune
Rife with foreboding, studded with the clichés of romanticism (a fatal love, a ferocious storm, a ruined tower, a haunted fountain, a madwoman), Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor, " which opened Saturday at the Ordway Center in Minnesota Opera's exceptional, double-cast production, has held the stage since its 1835 premiere -- the only non-comic bel canto opera with a continuous performance history. If not an unequivocal masterpiece -- the music ranges from the sublime (the Act 2 sextet) to the oddly chirpy -- "Lucia" is a repertory mainstay. It helped fuel the bel canto revival of the 1950s and '60s. And its mad scene, a favorite topic of feminist musicology, has made the career of more than one now-legendary soprano.
It's too early to bestow legendary status on Alabama-born Susanna Phillips, the Lucia of the opening-night cast, but she is, as pollsters say, headed in the right direction. Possessing an opulent instrument, Phillips has all the agility her role requires. But she is no wind-up nightingale: her coloratura is about communication, not display. Her quiet singing, with its floated, other-worldly high notes, is exquisite; her acting, lit with intelligence, is charismatic enough to hold the audience's gaze throughout her quarter-hour mad scene (which in this case ends in suicide).