Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Seattle Opera Madama Butterfly Photo Retrospective

Today’s post is by Monte Jacobson, who became a member of Seattle Opera’s chorus in its first season in 1963, sang in every production until May 1996, and has attended every production ever since.

I had the pleasure of appearing as a geisha in all Seattle Opera’s productions of Madama Butterfly from 1970 to 1995. While looking forward to our next production, I've found myself reminiscing about many of the different Butterflys who have graced our stage.

September 1970
MARCELLA REALE, American soprano, International Series
Photo by Des Gates

Ms. Reale was a very passionate, yet delicate Butterfly. The fact that she celebrated her two hundredth performance of Butterfly on opening night was apparent from the ease and total involvement she was able to bring to the role. She really impressed her fellow performers and brought tears to our eyes in her Act II aria, "Che tua madre." [Monte Jacobson is shown to Ms. Reale's left.]

September 1977
SUNG-SOOK LEE, Korean-American soprano, International Series
Photo by Des Gates

Ms. Lee was young and pretty and was able to convey a wealth of meaning through every gesture. She had a light, flexible soprano with lovely pianissimi; her lower register, however, was sometimes uncertain and lacked the support Puccini's long phrases demand of his heroine. Melinda Bargreen stated in the Seattle Times, "Lee's Butterfly is a woman of grace and passion, girlish coquetry and stark realism. Her characterization has both charm and depth...the sort of performance that allows opera to work as theater."

May 1982
ATSUKO AZUMA, Japanese soprano, International Series
Photo by Chris Bennion

Well known in the opera world as an outstanding singing actress, Ms. Azuma exhibited a deep understanding of the role and brought to it a delicate authenticity. I admired her interpretation and felt it suited her extremely well vocally as well as dramatically. I remember her being so attentive to every detail in order to give an authentic Japanese portrayal, that she even took the time to instruct the geisha girls in the proper way to walk and move their hands. Her performance brought to mind the classic movie Rashomon.

May 1989
BARBARA DANIELS American soprano, Gold Series
Photo by Mary McInnis

Ms. Daniels was another wonderful singing actress, and she brought much passion and warmth to the role. She sang the role with a full, lush voice. Her portrayal tended to be more Westernized than those of the sopranos who preceded her. [Ms. Daniels is shown here with tenor Marcello Giordani, her Pinkerton.]

January 1995
ELENA FILIPOVA, Bulgarian soprano, Gold Series
Photo by Greg Eastman

Ms. Filipova’s appearance marked her debut with the company and she was called on very short notice to replace the soprano originally contracted for Cio-Cio-San. I remember her powerful voice, well suited for the demands Puccini makes of his heroine; yet she was able to spin out the pianissimo high notes that soared over the orchestra’s climaxes. I agreed with Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s reviewer R.M. Campbell when he wrote. . . “she is a singing actress in the best sense of that word . . . and conveys the sweetness, determination and honor of one of Puccini’s great heroines.” Her Trouble in this photo is Gabriella Schwarz, daughter of the Seattle Symphony Maestro.

ELIZABETH HYNES, American soprano, Silver Series
Photo by Greg Eastman

Ms. Hynes was a Seattle area resident and she opened the 1993 New York City Opera season with the American premiere of the original 1904 Brescia version of Madama Butterfly. She had performed this role for many companies in the US. I remember that she was very intense in her portrayal and was able to make every emotion believable and real.

January 2002
SHERI GREENAWALD, American soprano, Opening Cast
Photo by Gary Smith

Sheri Greenawald was well known to Seattle audiences for her portrayals of Natasha in War and Peace in 1990, Eurydice in 1988, and other roles. She was named Artist of the Year in 1998 for her performances of the title role in Florencia en el Amazonas and Mimi in Bohème. Her performance in Seattle Opera’s 2002 Madama Butterfly was her debut as Cio-Cio-San. She was able to focus intently on each scene’s content by making the drama in the music real and convincing. Her final scenes were emotionally gripping.

MARIE PLETTE, American soprano, Alternate Cast
Photo by Gary Smith

Marie Plette is best known for her Wagnerian roles in Seattle Opera’s Ring such as Freia, Ortlinda and Gutrune. As Cio-Cio-San she brought a youthful voice and charm to the role that conveyed her vulnerability and trusting, childlike nature as the fifteen year-old geisha. She was a passionate Madama Butterfly in the Act I love duet alongside the Pinkerton of Jay Hunter Morris, who is singing Siegfried at the Met as I write this.

I'm looking forward to hearing the well-known, experienced Butterfly of Patricia Racette and the professional U.S. debut of Ausrine Stundyte next week! To be continued...