Created by: Mary Collins 02/04/2019
"Madama Butterfly" by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, is based on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long. For further historical background information, check here.
Firstly, I have to credit Basel Theater as a beautiful and wonderfully presented venue. A grand exterior staircase leads to a stunning foyer with multiple levels and numerous bar and catering areas.
As I entered the auditorium it was noticeable that almost everyone was elegantly dressed for this traditional and well-loved opera, and one could not help but feel the lush ambience and excitement as the orchestra tuned their instruments in the Orchestral pit. I took my seat, second row and centre. The opera was in the main theatre, large enough to hold a substantial audience but also small enough to give everyone a satisfactory view.
There were subtitles above the stage in both English and German while this opera was sung in traditional Italian. As the theatre darkened and the curtains lifted, I was visually treated to a nice clean-styled set designed by Zinovy Margolin as well as more modern costume styles of Olga Shaishmelashvili. All of this is the brain child of Vasily Barkhatov and backed by the musical direction of Antonello Allemandi and Nicoloa Valentini.
The spin on this particular Madama Butterfly production combines the obsession of capturing the life of Pinkerton and the “Butterfly” Cio-Cio San characters through the lens of a smartphone, greatly amplifying the misunderstandings of culture and its possible consequences.
The use of the selfie stick and real-time on-screen video really impresses, adding the modern take of close-ups, shown on the widescreen TV that is also on stage. This artistic way of sharing the light-hearted and tense moments made a powerful difference, helping the audience connect better with the performers. There is something raw about seeing someone film a group of people, as if they are just objects, for pleasure.
The big, onstage TV and video footage make moments relatable as they capture and emphasize the bonding of the main characters, and their heartbreak in stages. I found it hard to hold back tears when, at a certain point Cio-Cio San plays back these memories again and again, especially poignant when she goes through footage of her beloved child. It seems almost metaphorical, when one reaches their end and it is said their whole life flashes before them.
The actor that plays Butterfly, Talise Trevigne, has a quality voice and is also a very skilled actress. She plays the role of an innocent, enthusiastic geisha well, and her denial and despair are noteworthy. Her supporting actress Kristina Stanek, who plays Suzuki, is also an outstanding actress. As Cio-Cio San falls deeper and deeper into depression Suzuki is waiting patiently by her side. Her reactions are clear, in her body language and her sorrow-filled voice.
The actor who played Pinkerton, Otar Jorjikia definitely initiates the audiences' dislike of his character. Pinkerton, from the beginning, shows his blasé treatment of Cio-Cio San, her relatives, and cultural traditions, putting one in the mindset of his character. Ultimately the betrayal of Madama Butterfly is the sad but not an unexpected reveal. A quote that perfectly sums up his character's personality is when he states "I must have her, even though I injure her butterfly wings".
All of the actors played their parts very well, particularly since this production treats the story in a fresh and non-traditional way. I would recommend seeing this version at the Basel Theater. 4 stars!
Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly)
Suzuki, servent of Cio-Cio-San
B. F. Pinkerton
Otar Jorjikia Sharpless
More performers info here
LIGHT & VIDEO