Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Madama Butterfly - Giacomo Puccini / Netherlands Opera|
Actors: Cheryl Barker, Martin Thompson
Director: Robert Wilson
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Robert Wilson's pure and highly stylised 2003 production enhances the timeless beauty of Puccini's moving Japanese tragedy. Cheryl Barker and Martin Thompson lead an inspired cast in a highly charged recording from the Ams... more »
An Unusually Good But Different Madama Butterfly
Robert Elmasian | San Diego, CA USA | 11/19/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very well sung and very well presented Madama Butterfly. However, in agreement with others, I believe this Madama Butterfly should not be a first or only Butterfly. As well done as it is, it clearly does not represent what Puccini had in mind; instead it reflects the thinking of director Robert Wilson who tightly limits and controls the movements, actions, and appearance of all the players.
As he helpfully explains in the Extras part of the DVD, Wilson believes the kaleidoscope of colors and movements in a typical opera production distracts attention from the music. His abstract, serious, static, and strictly stylized approach here is intended to focus the audience on the music and away from busy presentation. Interestingly, Wilson also says he does not start from the music but wraps the music around his vision of light and movement, sometimes demanding that characters move counter to the rhythm of the music. As others explain, the audience cannot passively follow the story but has to impute what the characters are thinking from their very subtle and limited movements. Indeed, Wilson seems much more concerned with affecting the thought processes of his audience than actually telling Butterfly's story. His way certainly causes an audience to think and is creative if only because it is so different. Nevertheless, I suspect that this unusual Butterfly works well mainly, perhaps only, because of its high level of execution, both musically and on stage.
There is a subtext to Wilson's approach that is not explained. It is a "widely known secret" that Wilson is gay, and some of that interest affects this Butterfly. The most obvious manifestation is a heavy focus on male characters in what is a quintessentially female story. For example, Wilson follows Butterfly's son in the Dream sequence, not Butterfly herself. Even at the final climax, Wilson focuses more on the son and Pinkerton reaching out to each other over a dying Butterfly than Butterfly's death. While the gay subtext is obvious, at least to me, it is merely a subtext. This is not a gay Madama Butterfly. Homophobes need not be concerned about corrupting themselves or others by watching it anymore than one would be corrupted by watching a Benjamin Britten opera. Art is art.
Having praised this DVD, I must admit that it is not my favorite Madama Butterfly on DVD. My favorite is a recently released, 1997 Opera Australia production, also starring Cheryl Barker (Madama Butterfly / Opera Australia, Cheryl Barker, Jay Hunter Morris). It too is very well done, both musically and on stage. The Opera Australia production also has imaginative lighting effects, and the acting in it is so good that when the music is muted, the second and third acts actually hold interest as a stage play with subtitles alone. (Puccini forbid!) Ironically, what I personally prefer in Wilson's 2003 Butterfly over the 1997 version are two auditory features, not some aspect of staging. The acoustics of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam, are better than those of the Sydney Opera House and Cheryl Barker's voice, which has continued to improve over her career, has yet more power than before.