Theater Review: Madama Butterfly

The Japanese symbols for “life” and “death,” at the beginning and end, were wasted on an audience that presumably did not understand their meaning.

Madama Butterfly 521 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
Madama Butterfly 521
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was performed at the Israeli Opera in a co-production with the Warsaw Wielki Opera just as it was four years ago, with only slight modifications.
This tearjerker seems to have retained its audience appeal, even though exoticism’s novelty charm wore off decades ago. Japan is more associated nowadays with Toyota cars and Sony transistors than with geishas and Buddhist priests, and male infidelity today is no more exceptional than it was in Puccini’s day.
Mariusz Trelinski’s direction and Boris Kudlicka’s sets have stood the test of time. Now as then, they reflect refined taste, careful avoidance of conventional realism or exoticism, and intelligent abstention from sophisticated modernism.
The final suicide scene, though, suffered from overdone theatricality, rendering the proceedings indigestible, where the sorrowful facts might profitably have been left to imagination.
The Japanese symbols for “life” and “death,” at the beginning and end respectively, were an original idea, no doubt, but wasted on an audience that presumably did not understand their meaning.
In the title role, Ira Bertman was a disappointment, especially as expectations had been high. Impressive though her bright soprano sounded, she functioned upon the erroneous assumption that strong emotions have to be expressed by shouting, making one wish to turn the volume down.
She just did not capture the innocent, mild, devoted nature of this young, naive girl whose voice gets softer the more intense her feelings become. Consequently, the singer acted the role, wearing her emotions on the surface, rather than identifying with them internally. Her voice also sounded more mature and determined than was suitable for this lovely, teenage character.
As Pinkerton, Zoran Todorovich’s radiant lyric tenor impersonated a credibly impassioned lover in Act One, and genuine, moving remorse in his final scene.
Vladimir Braun’s warm, sonorous bassbaritone represented a dignified, authoritative Sharpless. Ayala Zimbler’s appealing, expressive mezzo-soprano was a sympathy-evoking Suzuki.
The Israel Opera Chorus displayed a full, rich sound and perfectly balanced homogeneity. Its Humming Choir was one of the performance’s highlights.
Conducted by Luciano di Martino, the Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion was a full-fledged partner of this production.
Emotions were conveyed sensitively and impressively, and dramatic events were emphasized forcefully and persuasively.