Sunday, February 27, 2011

Butterfly at WNO

Props to WNO for giving great Butterfly this evening, in what is definitely its most consistent production so far this season, due in great measures to a very exciting A-cast. Mind you, with two full casts of the main principals, plus another cast for the Young Artist program, this effort is veering close to La Boheme on Broadway territory, and future iterations may not fare as well--but whatever: tonight's lineup was the real deal.
Catherine Naglestad gets both thoughtful AND ravishing points for her Butterfly. This is a great voice for the part: she maintains a sweet edge and easy, very pure sound even when pushing the volume. But she also knows how to deploy great fx where appropriate, and had the audience in pin drop mode with her pianissimos on several occasions. If there are some money transitions missing here and there, she gives every reason to think they'll be added in time. Particularly appreciated the lovely, restrained reading of "Un bel di" and some very credible coquettishness.
Her fine partnership with Alexey Dolgov set the standard for the evening. Dolgov offers an awfully attractive light n' easy sound that makes for an extra insidious Pinkerton. I mean, it's one thing when Pinkerton is basically Cavaradossi in nice fitting trousers and belts you into submission--but an irrepressible, urgent, youthful sound like Dolgov's is the more devastating. At the curtain calls, the audience couldn't help but respond with some tongue-in-cheek boos. Michael Chioldi's Sharpless and Margaret Thompson's Suzuki were both first-class as well, rounding out a principal cast with nary a weak link.
Philipe Augin led the WNO Orchestra in a lush, sensitive reading, with energy only flagging a tad in the beginning of the Act III before recovering for a wrenching finale.
The elegant, tasteful production, from San Francisco, is really about all one needs in a Butterfly before one gets into the puppet children/floating lantern/Butterfly as space hooker territory. There are thoughtfully choreographed screens, a priddy raining petals moment, a big scrim in the back that does a dawn effect after the humming chorus and then goes red when she kills herself--it may sound like Butterfly by the numbers, but it is done with nuance and skill and the overall effect is fully satisfying.
One particularly nice touch is the slightly more explicit eroticism of the Love Duet. The screens part to reveal a starry sky and a modest twin bed--Pinkerton's classy contribution to the marriage chamber--and the blocking revolves around Pinkerton, in an increasing state of undress, sweetly cajoling her to get in the bed. It's a gentle choice but it makes the scene richer and more honest. With a chaste Love Duet, the sequence can seem false, given what the libretto clearly tells us about Pinkerton's motives, and you know, him being a douche and all. But the erotic moment has its own truth, and Puccini's rapturous music fills in the space between the naked facts of the story and the fleeting emotional world of the characters to create something real and poignant, even if we can already see the tragedy in motion. Also--when the Americans get back they are hanging out in the room with the bed which must have been REAL awkward for Kate.
Anyhow, very strong showing from the company tonight!

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