A tragic love story

‘Madama Butterfly’ returns to the Israeli Opera’s stage, this time with Italian conductor Luciano di Martino.

Madama Butterfly 521 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
Madama Butterfly 521
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
One of the most popular and tragic operas by Puccini, Madama Butterfly, returns to the the Israeli Opera Tel Aviv-Jaffo stage next week. The production is staged by a renowned Polish Director, Mariusz Trelinski, who is already familiar to the local music lovers who cheered his stunning production of the Pique Dame.
But this is the Israeli debut for the Italian conductor of the production, Luciano di Martino, who has an impressive international career. Sitting at a Tel Aviv hotel lounge after his first rehearsal with the Rishon LeZion Symphony (which serves as the opera orchestra), di Martino speaks about his music career, and of course, about Puccini’s masterpiece.
“My father was a tenor and he performed plenty in concert programs,” says di Martino who grew up in a bilingual family (his father is Italian, his mother German) and was exposed to music from a very early age. “True, my father’s repertory was not large, but for me this was not important. Anyway, he introduced me to the world of opera, I learned a lot about opera singing from him.”
The young di Martino studied piano, as well as composition, and served as opera singers’ accompanist from an early age. He then continued his music education, studying conducting in Hamburg University of Music and Drama. “This was a wonderful place to learn,” he admits.
“Already during my student years, I had many opportunities to work with professional orchestras, excellent choirs and talented young singers.”
Graduating from Hamburg University in 1996, di Martino started his professional career a year later in Novosibirsk, Russia, conducting Otello, followed by Tosca, and many other operas at the local opera theater. He was immediately noticed by the well-known conductor Arnold Katz, who invited di Martino to conduct the Novosibirsk Symphony.
The Italian conductor kept returning to the Siberian city - the important scientific and cultural center of the region - once and again as a guest conductor (he even learned Russian), and soon got a steady job in Bulgaria, where he became the music director and principal conductor of the Bulgarian State Opera in Stara Zagora. The appointment gave him an opportunity to work with prominent Bulgarian singers, including Ghena Dimitrova, and “learning a lot about bel canto from her.” He still returns to conduct to this country, in addition to his appearances with Western European opera theaters and symphony orchestras.
Di Martino says he never stops to learn new things in his profession, which demands a vast knowledge. In the past, he also studied with two prominent Russian conductors, Valery Gergiev and the late Ilya Musin (whose name is barely known in the West, since he spent most of his life behind the Iron Curtain), as well as with Korean maestro Myung- Whun Chung.
“With Musin it was mostly about the technique - how to show music without speaking, only with your baton and your gestures - a very important experience. And from Gergiev I learned how get the idea of sound, to believe in it and to work with the huge instrument, which is called the orchestra. And I still am learning from him many important things. He is simply fantastic,” he recollects.
“Two years ago we met with Gergiev again and he was quite impressed with my vast repertory, so he is now inviting me quite often as a guest-conductor to his Mariinsky productions. I also help him to show young Russian singers how to sing bel canto, and what Italian singing is about. But they are very good anyway. They have a great school - sometimes it’s just about pronunciation and knowing the Italian tradition.”
Di Martino says that Puccini is among his favorite composers. “I identify with music easily, I feel it.
There is everything in his music.
Interesting, that although he has some Japanese instruments in the Madama Butterfly orchestra, he managed to amalgamate Italian, French and Japanese music into one and still be himself - and this is his genius!” he says.
“By the way, he never went to Japan - he learned Japanese music from the wife of the Japanese ambassador in Milan, who was an amateur singer.
She sang to him Japanese songs, and she also brought him some notes from Japan. This lady also made some corrections in his work. The only mistake he, for some reason, has never fixed was the name of king Yamadori - which in Japan is a woman’s name!” Already after his first orchestral rehearsal, di Martino has nothing but compliments to the Rishon LeZion Symphony. “The was an immediate understanding between us, they know this opera from the previous production. But during the last 10 days I already had many rehearsals with singers and conversations with the stage director, so I am deep inside the production,” he says.
“The cast is excellent and we enjoy the collaboration. We now all know the material and are attending the details - they are of utmost importance in Puccini’s music.”
Di Martino emphasizes that for him as a conductor “authenticity of the music, of the style,” is what counts. “There are bel canto elements in Madama Butterfly, but it probably belongs to the late romanticism, and the beginning of the modern music. And for conductors it is important to breath with the orchestra, with the choir and the soloists,” he concludes.
Madam Butterfly, by Puccini, with Ira Bertman in the lead, will be performed 11 times starting from April 11th. Special programs: Before the show back stage tours: April 15, 17 (at 18:45), 21 and 28 (at 19:45); Opera Talkback: April 15, 16, 19 and 27. For reservations: (03) 692 7777