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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly - Opera in two acts (1904)
Madama Butterfly - Raffaella Angeletti (soprano); Pinkerton - Massimiliano Pisapia (tenor); Suzuki - Annunziata Vestri (mezzo); Sharpless - Claudio Sgura (baritone); Goro - Thomas Morris (tenor); Il Bonze - Enrico Iori (bass); Kate Pinkerton - Nino Batatunashvili (soprano)
Fondazione Orchestra Regionale Delle Marche/Daniele Callegari
rec. live, Arena Sferisterio, Macerata, Italy, 2009
Stage Director, Sets and Costumes: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Picture Format: 16:9, HD 1080P, Sound formats: BD: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
Booklet notes in English, German, French
UNITEL/C MAJOR 706304 [137:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Opera at Macerata, which is located between the rivers Potenza and Chienti in Italy’s Marche region, has several significant advantages over other summer opera festivals in that country. Unlike other venues, such as Torre del Lago, Bergamo and Pesaro, its activities are not restricted to presenting the operas of a composer who lived there, or was born nearby. It sports two venues: the lovely Teatro Lauro Rossi, as it happens named after a composer born in the town and whose operatic oeuvre is becoming more recognised and the open air Sferisterio Arena. The mighty curved Arena Sferisterio was built in 1829 and seats over three thousand. The Arena was once the venue for a handball game called pallone al bracciale involving ricochets off its long wall, a feature that has presented some directors with too great a challenge. The year of this performance, 2009, was the forty-fifth season of operas in Macerata.

In recent years the Macerata season has had its difficulties. Following the appointment of the vastly experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi as its director, it has returned to past glories. He sees the vast space of the stage area as a challenge and varies its use to suit the work being presented. In Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda he used the long wall to advantage. In this Madama Butterfly, a more intimate opera, he focuses on the central stage for the main action, using only the width to show the arrival of individuals or the passing of processions.

The set is focused on a small traditional Japanese home with its sliding windows allowing for rapid change of scene and space. In front of the house is an area of raised decking and there are long walkway approaches from each side. In other words it is a traditional set in the best meaning of the words, completely unlike that from Torre del lago in its fiftieth anniversary year when I could not place the venue and Butterfly had to live in the open air. Pizzi not only directs, but is responsible for the sets and traditional costumes to produce a fully integrated whole. In his composition Puccini was keen to convey Japanese culture via his music and went to a great deal of trouble to hear and integrate ethnic tunes into his creation. Daniele Callegari on the rostrum of the orchestra, who are placed in front of the stage and lower down, does full justice to the Japanese motifs as well as the lyrical and dramatic moments.

Despite taking care to represent the Japanese ambience, Puccini seemed not to take on board the age of Butterfly in David Belasco’s play that he had seen in London when visiting for the premiere of his Tosca in that city in 1900. The libretto, the third of a great trio created for him by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, clearly states Butterfly’s age at fifteen. Realistically, no light-toned soprano can sing the music he wrote for the part that needs a strong lyric soprano moving towards a spinto-sized voice; such voices rarely come associated with young faces and figures. In the title role of this production Raffaella Angeletti sings with bright forward lyric tone and with all the necessary heft to ride the dense orchestral colour that Puccini demands. Medium to tall and angular, her facial features are a little too old - for which she compensates by her convincing acting and expressive singing. Her un bel di, vedramo (CH.17) is well phrased and articulated whilst she brings a breadth of tonal colour to the dramatic last scene as Butterfly realises that Pinkerton has married and has come, with his wife, to take their child to a better life in America. The caddish Pinkerton of Massimiliano Pisapia benefits considerably by his smart white high-collared navy uniform. It disguises his rather plump figure and unappealing features. His tenor is strong, but without much grace of phrasing. The director highlights Pinkerton’s true character from the beginning when he has him pass dollar bills to all and sundry to facilitate the supposed marriage to Butterfly. This Pinkerton has few, if any, redeeming moral standards; he knows what he is doing and intends to do with his child bride, on the wedding night and in the future. Sharpless, the American Consul and the fall guy who has to try clear up the mess of the relationship is sung by Claudio Segura with strong expressive tone. His tall and physically imposing physique is a great benefit to his well thought out and realised characterisation. Annunziata Vestri's acting as Suzuki is a little understated at first, but comes into her own as she faces her duties in the final scene and particularly in the ultimate harrowing dénouement.

All the minor roles play a full and involved part in the realisation of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s vision of this work with the Goro of Thomas Morris scurrying about and Enrico Iori an imposing Bonze. The chorus and orchestra under Daniele Callegari are a tower of strength, whilst the video director is sensitive in his choice of angles whilst using close-ups with circumspection. The sets, production and video direction disguise the challenges posed by the venue and which are superbly overcome in this naturalistic production.

The singing and orchestral sound is clear and well balanced with the audience applause muted by their distance from the stage action in this open-air performance. The picture definition is first class.

Robert J Farr








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