MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Trying to rethink Madame Butterfly at Seattle Opera

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Alexey Dolgov (Pinkerton) and Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San); photo by Jacob Lucas

My review for Bachtrack of the new Madame Butterfly production opening Seattle Opera’s season:

How well do we really know Madame Butterfly? So iconic that, for some, it’s the archetype of the art form itself, Puccini’s mega-popular opera has recently been coming in for renewed scrutiny.

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Filed under: Puccini, review, Seattle Opera

Manon Lescaut at the Met

649x486_manon_lescaut_introduction (1)Here’s my Playbill essay for the Met’s new production of Manon Lescaut:

Following the world premiere of Manon Lescaut on February 1, 1893, thechorus of critical praise included the observation that, with his new opera,“Puccini stands revealed for what he is: one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of the young Italian opera composers.”

continue reading (pdf, see p. 23)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Puccini

Consuming Consumption: TB on the Opera Stage

Mimi-deathbed

On the TB angle in Puccini (for San Francisco Opera’s La bohème:

“But if she’s dying of that dreadful disease, how could she still sing such gorgeous music?” It’s a question opera-goers often get asked when trying to describe what happens at the climax of one of the most beloved works in the repertoire. In the famous scene from the film Moonstruck, the character played by Cher —who is seeing La Bohème for the first time — notices the paradox and declares, “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

But Mimì’s tragic demise isn’t a medical documentary: it’s depicted in the context of a cultural and artistic tradition in which a wide range of diseases — whether of the body or of the mind — carried powerful symbolic meanings. Influenced by the legacy of Italian opera as well as by Wagner, Puccini was intimately familiar with the sudden madness of Donizetti’s Lucia of Lammermoor, the innocent sleepwalking of Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, and the mysteriously festering “wound” that torments Amfortas in Parsifal. Susan Sontag, in her landmark deconstruction of the use of “illness as metaphor,” observed that “sickness has a way of making people ‘interesting’ — which is how ‘romantic’ was originally defined.”

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Filed under: opera, Puccini, San Francisco Opera

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