Madama Butterfly (2019)

Arguably the most heartbreaking of all operas, Madama Butterfly fully represents one of the key reasons why I love opera so much: it unearths emotions in me that I rarely feel otherwise. One cannot help but be mortally affected by the tragedy of the teenaged geisha as she bestows complete faith in a foreigner she has never laid eyes upon to be her wedded husband. Characteristically of Puccini, the score sweeps with valor and brings forth some of opera’s most emblazoned moments, culminating in the painfully hopeful aria “Un bel dì”, which nearly brings tears to my eyes.

Hui He singing an excerpt from “Un bel dì” / Metropolitan Opera

Although I had seen this same Anthony Minghella production in 2016, I couldn’t resist going back a second time when it returned to theaters. In a dramatic twist, a relatively unknown tenor, Bruce Sledge, jumped into the leading role of Pinkerton with just 2 days notice and stunned ─ at least, vocally. His acting was heinous, but it was to be expected with hardly any rehearsal time. I would love to see him again when he has more time to prepare. His potential was tremendous !

Bruce Sledge as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly / Metropolitan Opera

One of the fundamentals of the much-adored Minghella production is the use of traditional Japanese Bunraku puppets, most notably as Butterfly’s 3-year-old son. While it’s mesmerizing to watch three veiled men in the shadows maneuver the head, hands, and feet of the wooden child, I felt that some of the attention to detail in regards to the physicality of the puppet had diminished since seeing the 2016 performance: the child toddled not as often as before and relied more frequently on being held by his mother.

Hui He as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly / Metropolitan Opera

This was just one detail that aided in the feeling of something being amiss. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it, this particular performance lacked a chemistry and fire that is so needed for a convincing Butterfly. Still, I enjoyed the opera ─ and the visually stunning production ─ nonetheless. It is Puccini, after all.

A scene from Madama Butterfly / Metropolitan Opera

She’s a geisha, yes. But more significantly, Cio-Cio-San is Madame Butterfly─ as in, a married woman. The centrifugal moment of the opera, which triggers all the dominoes to fall, is the marriage ceremony between Butterfly and Pinkerton. Climbing up the glossy stage while accompanied by her wedding party in bright regalia and corrugated fans, the silken white figure of Cio-Cio-San is a breathtaking sight to behold. This was exactly the look I wished to emulate with my costume.

Hui He as Madame Butterfly (seen here with Roberto Armonica) / Metropolitan Opera

With exactly a month before the opera, I commenced work on a replica kimono that I hoped would give credence to the character. An abounding bevy of varying satin “yo-yos” were cut and hand sewn together as the key ornamentation of the robe, which was quite comfortable since it was lined in a thin cotton voile. The logistical challenge of creating the obi (sash) and faux drum knot was another story, but for now we’ll just say it was adequate for its brief stint at the theater. My lovely friend, Judy, captured a photo of the back of the outfit during intermission.

Raven black wig, red poppy affixed, and yards of silvery white satin summoned to mind the ancestral artistry of the Met’s Minghella Madame…

Hui He as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly / Metropolitan Opera

With properly applied white face, a dab of rouge, and ruby red lipstick, I felt every bit the geisha for Cio-Cio-San’s wedding day. The pantomime was complete !

While the marriage between Butterfly and Pinkerton resulted in undue catastrophe, the afternoon at the opera was a carefree delight. Should you ever be proposed with the choice of attending a heartrending performance of Madama Butterfly, there should be only one reply in return… I do !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For more information on how I created Cio-Cio-San’s signature wedding kimono, please check out my tutorial post !

Cast and Credits:

Madama Butterfly ─ Giacomo Puccini (1904)
Live in HD air date: November 9, 2019

Cast:
Cio-Cio-San ─ Hui He
Pinkerton ─ Bruce Sledge*
Suzuki ─ Elizabeth DeShong
Sharpless ─ Paulo Szot

*Replaced Andrea Carè

Credits:
Conductor ─ Pier Giorgio Morandi
Production ─ Anthony Minghella
Director/Choreographer ─ Carolyn Choa
Set Designer ─ Michael Levine
Costume Designer ─ Han Feng
Lighting Designer ─ Peter Mumford
Puppetry ─ Blind Summit Theatre
Live in HD Director ─ Habib Azar
Host ─ Christine Goerke

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