Outing: Madame Butterfly at the Washington National Opera

As I’ve mentioned before, I love opera. I trained vocally using opera songs and just love the experience of immersing myself in beautiful music and singing. But opera tends to be an annual treat, when Mr. Tweed’s family friend invites us out to the Met Opera. So when I kept seeing advertisements on Facebook for the Washington National Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly, I was intrigued. I opened up the website to find that there were tickets available the Tuesday before my wedding for a very reasonable price. So I jumped at it and invited a friend with me to the opera.

DSCN0320

Madame Butterfly has a special place in my heart as my first introduction to opera. When I was in middle school, we would go on field trips to the Kennedy Center opera house to see opera teasers, and Butterfly was the first of these trips that I remember. I vividly remember the company performing the final scene, and the drama of it. Perhaps that was the moment that planted the seed of opera love in me, though I wouldn’t know it until years later. But I do remember mimicking the singing with my friends later on.

Butterfly is an interesting piece because it was written at the very beginning of the 20th century, at a time when the exoticization of Asian cultures had peaked in the West. But rather than fully buy into this, Puccini obviously uses it as a sort of inside joke. From the very beginning, the household servants are introduced by Americanized, highly poetic names, giving a sense of wonder, but when Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly) describes the tragedy of her early life and how she came to work as a geisha, her American husband can only marvel at her physical appearance. Indeed, the American Pinkerton comes off as oafish and insensitive, even without considering his plan to marry and abandon her.

But it is in the music where Puccini really shows the strength of his modern composing, weaving the American national anthem into the operatic score, and using the famous “Humming Chorus” to give a sense of melancholy and impending doom as Cio-Cio-san awaits her husband’s return. And, without giving too much away (as much as one can avoid spoilers for an over-100-year-old opera), the ending creates a moment that honestly made the breath catch in my throat. In fact, the ending deviates slightly from the original in the WNO staging, perhaps adding to its power.

The staging itself was designed by Japanese ceramics artist Jun Kaneko and shows his signature style of bold, graphic shapes. The spiral floor of the stage gives a sense that the actors are slightly off-balance the whole time, and transforms into an island adrift on an uncertain sea in the second act, when Cio-Cio-san and her companion, Suzuki debate the futility of waiting for Pinkerton’s return. While the staging has some missteps, particularly the use of moving projections, which occasionally become distracting, the use of light and color add to the dramatic effect, and gives appropriate weight to an ending that cannot explicitly show the bloodiness of Cio-Cio-san’s tragic end.

Advertisements

Musings and Ramblings

I’ve been a bit remiss about posting. Part of the reason for that are rehearsals ramping up for my next theater project: Enchanted April. I’m so excited to be playing Lady Caroline Bramble in the stage adaptation of the novel. Lady Caroline is a lovely young socialite with a troubled past and plenty of secrets. She’s very private and quiet most of the time, so it will be an interesting role. And she has a very daring and ecclectic wardrobe, which will be fun. The costumer and I have worked together before, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she pulls for me in a couple weeks.

I’ve also been spending a not-small amount of time planning out my recently-upgraded skin care routine. Because I’m waiting on packages from overseas, I have time to really spread out the testing of different products and watch for adverse reactions from each one. Because I love organization, I’ve put all this into a spread sheet. I’ve also decided to organizer my hair care routine like this as well. This past weekend, I indulged in a scalp massage with peppermint oil, a lovely scalp exfoliation with an acidic shampoo, and a deep conditioning treatment. I have a few new hair treats coming soon to add in, as well.

This weekend, I also had another opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to see a matinee of their production of Manon Lescaut. It was a gorgeous production, with sets and costumes inspired by wartime France in the 1940s, which I thought was a neat update. The singers were not only wonderful singers but also fantastic actors, and the lead tenor managed to make it through despite suffering from the flu! Having just had the dubious honor of performing with an unhealthy voice, I could hear where he really started straining and I was that much more impressed at how well he was able to maintain the strength and quality of his vocal sound.

So a whirlwind week of rehearsals, a whirlwind weekend of travel and culture, and what little time in between taken up with beauty planning means less time to plan, write, and take photos for blog posts. But I am not going anywhere for long, and I do have posts planned and photos to take for the future. Until then, I hope you will curl up with a cup of tea and wait patiently!

A Day at the Opera

Yesterday I had a treat. Boyfriend’s family friend has a box at the Metropolitan Opera and invited us to join her at a matinee of La Traviata. Although I’d seen teaser performances as a child and went to a performance of La Boheme at my university, I’d never been to a full-length, professional opera, much less at the Met. I was extremely excited.

IMG_0143I was certainly excited to dress up for the opera. I had found a great late-50s green brocade jacket the week before while out shopping, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring it out. We had lunch at the opera house restaurant first, which was delicious. I had a lobster pasta dish, and shared some of Boyfriend’s octopus starter, and the plate of cookies the table ordered. The waiter did try to mess with my tea (Earl Grey) before it was done steeping, but I fixed it.

And then, the opera. It was not a traditional staging, but a new one, first premiered in 2010. The stage is almost completely blank, with a huge clock that serves as a focal point, and a man who started the performance sitting on the stage the whole time we took our seats. Boyfriend and I spent a little time with the opera glasses trying to decide if he was real. He was. He was ostensibly the performer who sang the role of the doctor, but he stayed on stage silent throughout most of the play, to represent death. The clock and the death character highlighted that the play is not really about a romance, but about a death.

The singing was amazing. Obviously, I’d never seen a full-length professional opera before, but I was amazed at how pure Marina Rebeka, the soprano playing the role of Violetta, sounded. And the baritone Quinn Kelsey as Germont was fantastic as well. And Rebeka’s acting was great as well. I saw that the director really wanted to bring out the pain she was in from the beginning, to make both her facade as a courtesan and her seeming-recovery while in love with Alfredo more poignant.

The technical aspect of the play really drove home the vision. Above the curving upper level of the plain white set was a black screen that was replaced with a cheerful floral pattern at the beginning of the second act. When Giorgio Germont comes in to tell Violetta that she must give up Alfredo, and she realizes that he is right, the floral pattern’s colors started to fade to almost completely black and white, highlighting the third-act line about the flowers fading from her cheeks toward the end of her illness. The floral returns again at the end of the third act, as Alfredo returns and she has her illusion, but goes completely red just as she dies at the end of the show. It was very moving.

All in all, I so enjoyed my first excursion to the opera. It was a wonderful show, and a fantastic experience. I might have liked to have seen a more traditionally staged opera, but hopefully I will have my chance in years to come!