On consecutive evenings at the Grand Theatre, both Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and Verdi’s Rigoletto, made their appearances. I was there to witness both performances.
The theatre was full, and many excited fans of opera anticipated an exquisite performance. The lights dimmed, the orchestra warmed up, and the conductor entered the room, to which the orchestra stood to applaud. The first instrument to be heard was the violin, setting the pace and the scene, for the opera to begin.
The curtain rose and the audience was exposed to an intimate yet exuberantly colourful stage set which had been painted to depict foliage and garden scenery. Centre stage was a Japanese house, carefully made with much attention to detail. In traditional Japanese style, the house looked delicate and was located in Nagasaki, Japan. The pace of the opera was fairly up tempo as the introduction to the characters unfolded.
The orchestra evoked the emotions of the two male tenors on the stage and the story began with Lieutenant Pinkerton and Bonze the Consul. Already there was an air of extravagance, and then the geishas entered the stage. An array of wonderful kimono costumes, vibrantly colourful, illuminated the stage. Soon all the cast was on the stage together. The other local Nagasaki male characters in the opera also made their appearances.
The dialogue was sung in Italian, with English subtitles on a screen above the stage, which were legible from any seat. There was a certain humour to the acting and in the narrative during the first half, and all was characterised as light hearted, with some humorous quips. The story, a tragedy, although at times somewhat complicated, was easy to follow.
The opera was sung beautifully, with true emotion. The make-up, hair, and costumes were immaculate, as was the set design. The story began with American Lieutenant Pinkerton, who was visiting Japan from his naval ship which is docked. He met the young and very beautiful Butterfly, a 15 year old geisha from Nagasaki, and they married. The first half ended as Pinkerton, and Madama Butterfly slept on the evening of their wedding. There was then a twenty minute interval.
The second half began with the same stage set and Madama Butterfly, and her maid Suzuki, woke in their home. She was longing and waiting on the return of Lieutenant Pinkerton who had at this point left the beautiful Butterfly with the promise of his return in the spring when the robins build their nests. Then, the sadness of the opera took hold with the most famed Puccini piece of music, Un bel di vedremo, which was sung so wonderfully that it reduced me, and probably the whole audience, to tears. The remaining duration of the opera is based around Butterfly’s longing to see Pinkerton on his return, which return he does, with terribly tragic circumstances.
The tragedy of this opera is so hauntingly mesmerising and filled with emotion that one cannot help be filled with sadness.. The audience truly loved and thoroughly enjoyed this production and the applause for Madama Butterfly was great. Pinkerton, however, was booed at the finale, not because his performance was poor, but because he played the rat-like character so well. In all it was an undeniably stunning performance.
Again, the theatre was almost full. The orchestra warmed up and the conductor appeared to grand applause. Horns from the orchestra began to blow out a soft, yet dynamic tune to await the entrance of Rigoletto, a court jester. Rigoletto entered with hunched back, wearing a cape. A prop of a further more exuberant costume was on the floor, centre stage, which he duly put on. The first scene was one of joviality, in the Duke’s palace: a party of debauchery and drunkenness took place, with some nudity. The presence of two real greyhounds and an eagle created an ostensibly lavish scene, both colourful and upbeat.
The story unfolded as Rigoletto, who was tired of the pokes of fun from the courtiers, tried to stand his ground. The Duke had an eye on all the pretty girls at the party, especially one whom he had seen in the church. This girl turned out to be Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter, who the Duke then tried to seduce. On the way home from the Duke’s palace, Rigoletto met an assassin, Sparafucile. Meanwhile, the Duke found Gilda again and told her he was a poor student and that he was in love with her. Rigoletto, however, knew differently. The opera is also known, for reasons which became clear, as ‘The Curse’.
The scenery and period costumes were lavish and all very colourful. The operatic voices of the cast were immense and most passionate. There were three set changes during the opera. The verse was immaculate, as was the acting. The pace of the opera, musically, was fairly quick, until the final scene when tragedy struck and what is known as ‘the curse’ took place. A truly sad and unfortunate twist of events unfolded and the opera reached its conclusion. Otherwise, the story was upbeat with wonderful props and scenery and an amazing rhythm to the music. It’s a must see. Truly spectacular. I can’t wait for the next performance.
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