Monday, November 24, 2008

No rest for the Giordani

The Met season wouldn't be complete without Marcello Giordani randomly showing up in another opera. Two Saturdays ago, it was Madama Butterfly, the current production of which he helped premiere two seasons ago. This time he replaced Roberto Aronica as Pinkerton, a day after having sung Faust in the new Damnation. He was admirably solid, but the show -- as it should be -- was the Butterfly's.

Cristina Gallardo-Domas premiered the production with Giordani, and meticulously executed its Japanese-isms to the letter. Patricia Racette starred in two revivals -- last season and again this fall -- and her approach is much freer. Coincidence, or the privilege of not having to be first? In any case, Racette is more effective in the part, despite -- or maybe because -- her impersonation is more a general impression of smallness and restraint than the meticulous small walking, gesturing, etc. of her predecessor. Gallardo-Domas sold the production, but Racette sells Puccini: all things connect to the emotional line of Butterfly. The tremulous timbre that disappointed as Elisabetta cuts movingly here, and though her climactic top notes aren't huge, the clarity of feeling in the build-up almost has us hearing them that way. In body and voice, her Butterfly's nearly bursting with spirit, as all but Pinkerton can easily see.

This was my second experience with Anthony Minghella's Butterfly production, and the circumstance of the particular encounter (that is, seeing it back-to-back with the new Damnation) had me wondering if my earlier praise wasn't too guarded. Perhaps it's not visionary -- though the end-of-Act-I love duet staging, culminating in the flower petal curtain, may come close -- but everything works, and the stage elements' framing of the singers is at once eye-catching, dramatic, and helpful to their projection. How odd that the movie man made such a theatrical show, while the much-praised theater director gave us mere would-be cinema!

And not just the production showed well, but the piece. Helped by Patrick Summers' clear-eyed control (and surprising fire) in the pit and a terrific supporting cast (not least, as ever, Dwayne Croft's Sharpless), Butterfly on this occasion added up to quite a lot. Still not my favorite, but a real occasion of real opera.

UPDATE (1:15PM): It seems Giordani sang the two subsequent Butterfly performances as well.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.