Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
The set of Robert Wilson’s production of Madama Butterfly “is an artwork unto itself,” said Alan Rich in Variety. Audiences expecting the elaborate Japanese décor common to many interpretations of Puccini’s Nagasaki-set opera initially may be disappointed. But they will soon be moved by Wilson’s radical approach and aesthetic. There isn’t much to see onstage: “a flat surface, a stream meandering through it, distant lights in the foreground and background to suggest time of day.” In place of Puccini’s bustling choruses are just a few singers striking “stark, Kabuki-like poses.” The director has daringly distilled the work’s central scenes and images to “elevate the tragedy and the beauty” of this masterwork beyond expectations.
One of the best things about this production is Chinese soprano Liping Zhang, said Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times. A rare talent, she makes her Los Angeles Opera debut here as Butterfly, the young geisha who falls in love with the American naval officer Pinkerton. Zhang can’t find her rhythm opposite the miscast Franco Farina as Pinkerton. Fortunately, Pinkerton is largely absent from the second act, when Zhang “finds her center and is a wonder.” As a director, Wilson goes to great lengths to separate voice from gesture, and Zhang understands how to do this. “The quieter and more effortless her poses become, the more luminous her voice.” Most productions of Puccini’s opera are hamstrung by the composer’s benighted ideas about the East. But Wilson more or less ignores those and, in doing so, “finds a new alien land, neither East nor West, where Butterfly and Pinkerton are strange creatures, sieves through which emotions pour.”