MADAME BUTTERFLY • BREGENZ
REVIEW MADAME BUTTERFLY BREGENZ: OPERA SHOW IN MASTER CLASS
A gigantic flagpole with the American Stars and Stripes on top erects through a piece of crumpled paper weighing about 300 tons.
That’s how you rape a mastodon paper sculpture with references to Japanese origami that establishes itself as the stage for a large-scale outdoor version of one of Puccini’s most poignant melodramas.
The point is delivered and the drama can begin.
The sun’s last rays colour the sky orange and 7000 expectant spectators in the sold-out amphitheatre have sipped the last drops of bubbly sekt at the bars around the large theatre stage, which you may remember from a great shootout scene in the James Bond film Quantum Of Solace.
Now the overture blares out over the audience in a powerful sound quality that astounds from the first note.
Puccini’s unison, swirling strings whip like agitated wave peaks in the wake behind the American warship carrying naval officer Pinkerton, soon to dock in Nagasaki and spread death and despair long before anyone had thought of the atomic bomb.
The backdrop, a billowing, paper-like mega sculpture measuring some 30 x 30 meters and 1,400 square meters is mounted on 119 poles, which are hammered 6 meters down in the bottom of the Bodensee.
A crazy, technical feat that involved 33 high-tech suppliers, it is the centrepiece of this year’s performance at the famous Seebühne (lake stage) in Bregenz.
A large-scale production by director Andreas Homoki, who was Barrie Kosky’s predecessor at the Komische Oper, is now artistic director of the Zurich Opera and is currently working on his version of The Ring, where the Rhingold impressed and Valkyrie is about to premiere.
Puccini’s classic has landed as a large-scale opera show for a wide audience who will take home both a spectacular and musical experience.
Conservative-minded opera aficionados might turn up their noses and call Bregenz opera’s answer to Holiday On Ice.
That was very much the case last year, when German director Philipp Stölz gave Rigoletto maximum performance in an unprecedented display of stage showmanship, regular stunts and scenery techniques that just made you sit there with your jaw dropped watching the circus.
The action was just extemporized to the point that the obsequious Duke had become circus ringmaster and the rest of the plot aligned in an unbroken series of wild stunts, culminating when the soprano delivered her iconic aria, hanging from a crane at what I remember as 50 feet.
Absolute stage power was my poppy headline for the 5-star review. It was an amazing experience that showed what opera also can do when you give a damn about convention and extemporize Puccini into a Las Vegas fantasy that thankfully landed more tastefully than anything I’ve seen over there.
Homoki’s Madame Butterfly is less turbulent and speaks more to the heart in an exotic, Japanese-inspired super-aesthetic of beautiful, mass choreography. Gorgeous, fluttering costumes (Antony McDonald) and rotating rice paper umbrellas in pops of colour.
A sublime lighting and video design (Frank Evin/Luke Halls) brings the giant, static set (Michael Levine) to life, with stunning light sequences and animations that can both make spring with flying leaves from Japanese cherry trees – and turn into a giant, ghostly death mask of Uncle Gonzo, predicting all the doom and gloom.
The Vienna Symphony Orchestra is top-notch, as are the singers, who rotate through the season in multiple ensembles. One is simply exceptionally well entertained for 2.5 hours.
Butterfly is not nearly the circus that Rigoletto was in 2021 – Homoki has chosen to keep more focus on the opera itself, in poetic, skillfully implemented imagery.
With a finale that closes the party with a truly effective mix of video, smoke and live pyrotechnics.
A rich experience that I find a little underrated in the international press and gladly rectify with five stars from Det Sku’ Du Se/Got to See This
The sets in Bregenz are so big, and both the technical and artistic investments so massive, that Butterfly can be seen again over the summer of 2023. Highly recommended.