Summary: Lovely music and production design can’t quite make up for over two hours of a predictable story with no sympathetic characters.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen many operas in my life, and I was given free tickets by my company to see this in San Francisco as part of the Opera America conference. As usual at operas, I struggled to stay awake the whole time, and after the show I was unsure how I felt. Discussing the show with more learned opera-goers than myself (including one woman writing a dissertation on Madame Butterfly) helped clarify my own opinions.
- Pretty music with crazy talented opera singers
- I enjoyed the physical performance of the guy playing Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (great name). He had a frat-boyish, carefree kind of attitude that stayed interesting to watch throughout. Too bad he’s absent for the whole middle.
- Excellent set design. A swirly ramp culminating in a platform was abstract enough to excite the imagination but practical enough to clearly delineate different spaces, from a house to a bench to a ship.
- Some of the projection design was excellent. While the death scene at the end is pretty melodramatic, a great white projection where a drop of blood grows and becomes a mess was undoubtedly powerful stuff.
- Here’s the whole plot: guy with something falls in love with girl with nothing, marries her, bangs her, and forgets her (typcical frat guy). She has hope he’ll come back, and he does, but has a new wife. She kills herself in shame. All of this seemed inevitable from about 2 minutes in when he’s singing about how contracts all have to be renewed or they expire, and how much he likes that custom.
- All of the characters basically come off as idiots. The guy is like ‘Whhhaaa? What do you mean you’re upset that I went off and started another family?’ and the girl is like ‘Just because he hasn’t contacted me in years doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me!’ I just can’t feel sorry for them.
- Some of the projection design was too literal and frankly, dumb. Oh look! A boat is approaching! Let’s have a super simple animation of a toy boat silhouette with an American flag move cross the set for five minutes.
- There was like a twelve-minute section in the middle of the opera with no one on stage and weird drawings of people being projected while soft music played. I had no idea what was going on, and neither did anyone else I was with. THEN I learned that Madame Butterfly is supposed to be on stage, during all of this, basically still, silently coming to grips with the fact that her husband has left her and she has nothing. Oh look! A chance for character development. Why didn’t they take it?