Buratto’s triumphant role debut highlights the Met’s rich and treasurable “Butterfly”

Sun Mar 20, 2022 at 12:03 pm
By Rick Perdian
Eleonora Buratto and Brian Jagde star in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Richard Termine

Madama Butterfly returned to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time this season in Anthony Minghella’s visually stunning and emotionally devastating production. Minghella’s minimalist concept is not only a crowd pleaser, but a remarkably innovative and effective backdrop for Puccini’s tragic opera. The staging has lost none of its freshness and power since premiering at the Met in 2006.

The house to which Pinkerton brings his fifteen-year-old bride is created by shoji screens that glide across the stage. There is bold use of color, particularly in the dazzling kimonos of Cio-Cio-San’s relatives. The images of softly lit white lanterns floating about the stage in the final moments of Act I are breathtakingly beautiful. Pivotal scenes are reflected in mirrors above the stage, which create a distorted, haunting aura to the action.

In the second act, delicate garlands of cherry blossoms fall from above, while mounds of deep red peonies bank the stage for the Flower Duet. Butterfly commits ritual suicide center stage with her red obi expanding into four rivers of blood that reach to the far corners of the stage. Still in character, the soprano descends alone downstage for her solo bow with the sashes still streaming from her waist. 

The most innovative element of the staging is the use of Bunraku-style puppets to portray Cio-Cio-San’s child, as well as Butterfly herself in a dream sequence, which foreshadows her tragic end during the Act III Intermezzo. The puppet’s mute reactions are infinitely more effective than those of an actual child in conveying pure emotion; the delicate shivers that rippled through the puppet as Butterfly explained to Sharpless that the child’s name would change from Sorrow to Joy upon Pinkerton’s return, expressed delight in a manner in which few child actors could.

Eleonora Buratto triumphed in her role debut as Butterfly. Her sparkling, light soprano, which dazzled so in bel canto roles such as Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, has grown into a voice that soars above Puccini’s far weightier orchestra with no loss of ease and beauty. 

Buratto effectively etched the excitement and naiveté of a fifteen-year-old embarking on a bold romantic adventure, all the while maintaining the dignity of a woman who has experienced both wealth and privilege, as well as poverty and despair, at such a tender age. Transformed by love, Buratto’s Butterfly was impetuous and noble. With her arms cradled around Elizabeth DeShong’s Suzuki, Buratto began “Un bel di, vedremo” on her knees as words of comfort addressed to her faithful servant, before taking center stage to deliver a stunning anthem of triumph having been vindicated in her unswerving belief that Pinkerton would return.

As Butterfly must, Buratto sang with warmth and dignity as she offered a benediction of sorts on Pinkerton’s wife, bidding her to be happy. In Cio-Cio-San’s final outburst of passion and grief, “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!”, Buratto’s voice blazed magnificently.

Brian Jagde has a tenor tailor-made for the Met, his unforced, natural sound filling the hall in a way that few voices do. Tall and handsome, Jagde fully captured Pinkerton’s swagger and callousness. When he led the cast forward for their bows, he was ramrod straight and devoid of emotion, sustaining the air of tragedy that Buratto had created in the opera’s final moments.

David Bizic’s baritone was rich and warm, a perfect match for his affable and caring Sharpless The most touching scene in the entire performance was in Act II when Bizic’s Sharpless attempted to gently break the news to Buratto’s Butterfly that Pinkerton was now married to another woman and had returned only to claim their son and take him to America. The sense of impending tragedy was overwhelming. 

As Suzuki, Elizabeth DeShong was the emotional compass to the action as the drama unfolded. DeShong lent a rocklike stoicism to Butterfly’s faithful servant through both her appearance and the deep stillness of her commanding mezzo-soprano. So different in timbre and weight, Buratto and DeShong’s voices blended perfectly in the Act II Flower Duet. 

Tenor Scott Scully made a vivid impression vocally and dramatically as the marriage broker Goro. In his Met debut, baritone Thomas Glass as Prince Yamadori also made his mark.

Conductor Alexander Soddy has a fine feel for Puccini and the Met Orchestra responded in kind. Soddy is a true man of the theater, carefully pacing the musical flow of the drama and instilling emotion into every phrase. With such a superb cast, he led a performance to treasure, and hopefully experience again this spring. 

Madama Butterfly continues through May 7. metopera.org

8 Responses to “Buratto’s triumphant role debut highlights the Met’s rich and treasurable “Butterfly””

  1. Posted Mar 21, 2022 at 2:34 am by Daniel M

    I found the puppets to be annoying. It seemed the puppeteers thought they were doing something wonderful, but the effect was just creepy and distracting. I purchased my ticket to experience Puccini, not Mumenschanz.

  2. Posted Mar 21, 2022 at 10:54 am by Mary Murphy

    I was amazed by the swift, unobtrusive and staggering skill of the Bunraku puppeteers. Mummenschanz is as far from the art of Bunraku as chopsticks are from a knife and fork. It was a beautiful production and interpretation of Puccini’s masterpiece.

  3. Posted Mar 23, 2022 at 2:27 pm by PeterK

    I too find the puppets distracting. I think the audience watches how they are moving when they should be directed to place their full attention on Butterfly singing some of the most beautiful music in all of opera. A real child would just be there and not really react very much. There is something awry when one says that a puppet can express more emotion than a real child.

    In addition, a child of the age the libretto asks for—about two- would not really understand a change of name and would not have a strong positive reaction. If it was understood at all, it would probably scare the child.

  4. Posted Apr 05, 2022 at 9:02 am by Edward Leibowitz

    My ten year old grandson was enthralled by this production. as was I

  5. Posted Apr 17, 2022 at 12:53 pm by Jason Bowden

    Maybe I have bad taste, but I loved the child puppet and felt terrible for it at the end. It emoted more realistically than Eric Owens the other night, who stood around like a log as the king in Don Carlos.

  6. Posted Apr 26, 2022 at 7:34 pm by Anna Pasternak

    I saw several different productions of Butterfly over the 40+ years of my subscription.

    But the most memorable still remains the one sung by Renata Scotto.

  7. Posted May 02, 2022 at 10:28 am by Colchamiro

    2006 production was magnificent. This was disjointed and distracting. Too cluttered.

  8. Posted May 02, 2022 at 5:56 pm by lokinvar

    This was my fourth experience with this production and 7th or 8th with Butterfly, all with different prima donnas. As far as productions go, the Minghella work is far and away the most inventive, challenging and above all deeply perceptive of the nuances that the story commands. There is an aggression that he brings to the production which allows for an understanding of the music in ways never before presented. The puppetry, servants, child, lanterns etc all contribute to his deeply felt reading of both the score and the libretto.

    Burrato is no Scotto, but she’s extremely polished and her acting and ability to color her tone makes up for any criticism in that regard. I believe she has redefined the role.

    People who don’t get the puppets probably don’t understand Macbeth’s witches or Hamlet’s ghost either.

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