This opera often precipitates discussion about casting, in particular the casting of Cio-Cio San, Madama Butterfly. Many wonder how mature Caucasian sopranos can portray the teenaged Japanese geisha, especially in an age when we have excellent young Japanese and Chinese sopranos who might better fit the role. But I've never fully understood this concern. After all, in the past, opera aficionados have accepted casting that involves the "fat lady" being romanced by a handsome athletic-looking tenor. And then too, when celebrated opera stars get along in years, they still often portray youthful characters, and few complain.
I raise this subject because I've already read commentary that Raffaella Angeletti isn't a believable Butterfly, despite her committed portrayal. This is the fourth video performance of this opera that I've reviewed here in the last several years and I can say that each one featured a soprano lead who, by standards of age and ethnicity, don't fit the look or voice of the young Cio-Cio San. But all were fine efforts both musically and dramatically, especially the live Met performance on Sony that featured Patricia Racette, who was stunning in the role, despite her maturity and other supposedly disqualifying features.
Oddly, in the pre-video days, you purchased an LP or CD of an opera and simply listened, imagining everything else – the look of the characters, the action, sets and costumes. Thus, if the soprano sounded young, she could be a quite effective Cio-Cio San. But with video, standards are different: while it gives you more, it also lays bare whatever visual shortcomings there might be. So, while you get more, ironically, you also get less. But that's progress!
Getting back to this recording… Raffaella Angeletti sings as well as Racette and is nearly as dramatically compelling. Angeletti has a rather chameleonic voice too. In fact, at times she seems to have three voices: in the Act II aria Un bel di, vedremo, she sings with an angelic voice in the opening high notes, and then descends to her creamier more normal sound, but occasionally reverts to a huskier voice in the lower ranges. In the end, she is a very convincing Butterfly, both vocally and dramatically. Massimiliano Pisapia is a fine Pinkerton, and both he and Angeletti offer a splendid Vogliatemi bene to close out the opening act.
The supporting roles were also strong in this production: both Annunziata Vestri as Suzuki and Claudio Sgura as Sharpless were excellent. In fact, these two were as strong in their respective roles as any others I've encountered recently. The rest of the cast was fine and the sets and costuming by Pier Luigi Pizzi were convincing in their traditional appearance. Danielle Callegari leads the orchestra and chorus with a masterly hand. The only quibble I have is that the ballet sequence added to accompany the Intermezzo music at the beginning of the Third Act was not particularly interesting. The camera work and sound were excellent. This production recorded in the open-air stadium at the Sferisterio Opera Festival in Macerata, Italy must be counted a major contribution to the growing video discography of this Puccini masterpiece. Recommended.
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings