Santa Fe Opera 2018 Review: Madama Butterfly
Anna María Martínez Delivers A Knockout Performance In Melancholy ProductionBy Arya Roshanian
There is something so intimate about the theater at Santa Fe Opera. Though intimacy may not be the word in mind for the over 2,000 seat semi-outdoor theater, it was magical to watch the setting sun as the backdrop for Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” It’s a treat reserved specifically for the New Mexican audience.
Director Lee Blakely’s melancholy production of “Madama Butterfly” returned to Santa Fe Opera on July 30 with a fresh set of singers. With an opera as popular as “Butterfly,” which is seen multiples times per season across all the top opera houses around the globe, one may assume they’ve encountered all there is to experience of this Puccini masterpiece — if you’ve seen one production, you’ve basically seen them all. Though Blakely’s concept has a traditional backbone, there are a few modern updates that make it more bearable to sit through for the umpteenth time.
Blakely, who passed away 2017, was succeeded by Matthew Ozawa. The American director made the most of what he was given, and was given a spectacular set of singers of both veteran and newbie status. Los Angeles audiences may remember Blakey’s production when it was staged at LA Opera in 2016, though it hasn’t been seen in Santa Fe since 2012. Blakley’s “Butterfly” isn’t exactly the most colorful, but it works in this case. It is jovial in the first act, and a bit morbid in the last two. The set itself is almost a paradox, in that it has minimal set pieces yet is fecund with props and pieces. The beiges and greys and blacks of the set and costumes (created by Jean-Marc Puissant and Brigitte Reiffenstuel, respectively) match the mood of the last two acts well. Reiffenstuel’s garments, updated slightly to show Cio-Cio San in Western clothing rather than traditional Japanese kimonos she usually wears, was a nice update that makes this production not like your average Butterfly.
The Best Parts
In the pit, Maestro John Fiore (replacing Jader Bignamini, who was originally announced as the production’s conductor) excelled in coddling the Puccini’s lush orchestrations, particularly during Butterfly’s death scene. Much of the drama of Butterfly doesn’t happen until this final act, leaving audiences with placid emotions, either joyful or desolate. However, Fiore made the best of these lull moments with his meticulous attention to detail. It also helps that he had the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra to his disposal, who were fabulous as always.
Though Ozawa and Fiore were assets to Blakley’s vision, the best part of this production was the singing. SFO favorite Ana María Martínez returned to the Crosby Theater in the title role, taking over from soprano Kellyt Kaduce, who sang the first string of performances to great acclaim. But Martínez is the true powerhouse. Above all, Martínez is first and foremost a singer, regardless of what feeling she’s conveying, her vocal technique is never compromised. She’s able to show a myriad of emotions — from the naive ingenue in her entrance scene with girlish charm, to a distressed mother grieving the betrayal of an estranged spouse by the opera’s end. Martinez had all the mannerisms of a young girl — her coyish flair during the wedding scene and her unrelenting optimism all made the criteria of a lovestruck teenager.
Returning to Santa Fe Opera is Joshua Guerrero as the loathed Pinkerton. The Mexican-American tenor, last seen stepping in at the eleventh hour for Steven Costello in 2016’s production of “Roméo et Juliette,” was terrific. Guerrero’s voice is large and focused, and easily dominated the open-aired theater with his penetrating tenor. He channeled a boyish energy to his Pinkerton in the first act, only to grow into his scumminess by the final act. Because is it really a production of “Madama Butterfly” if the audience doesn’t boo him during the curtain call?
Also worth mentioning was Megan Marino, in the sometimes overlooked role of Suzuki. Marino proved that she is a force to be reckoned with. Her plush mezzo-soprano voice was like balm to the ears in every note she sang. She conveyed the emotional range of a seasoned veteran, particularly in the Act three transition in which is drops to her knees sobbing, skeptical that Pinkerton will actually return to Cio-Cio-San. Marino is one to watch.
The other roles were all rounded out by strong singers as well. Nicholas Pallesen made a caring Sharpless, who seemed actually distraught at Butterfly’s fate. Matthew DiBattista was a memorable Goro, with all the seething pervertedness of Monostatos from “Die Zauberflöte.” As The Bonze, Soloman Howard’s enormous voice sent chills up and down the audience’s spines. Worth noting is also mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty as Kate Pinkerton. Hagerty, still an Apprentice Artist, possesses a rich, velvety sound that made quite an impact in her short time on stage.
In its triumphant return to Santa Fe Opera, Blakey’s “Madama Butterfly” is one to be experienced, especially at the fanciful, breezy Crosby Theater. The production runs until Aug. 24.