Madama Butterfly & Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne
The overall success of Glyndebourne as the leading country opera house was cemented in 2018 with two very high quality operas.
The Madame Butterfly of the Belfast born Opera Director, Annilese Miskimmon, who is currently the Director of Opera in Oslo, was first seen in 2016. The production takes place in post-second world war times during the American occupation of Japan and at a time when young girls trying to escape poverty were looking for American servicemen to marry. There is a video playing in the background to a bevy of young girls on ‘How to be an American Wife’.
At the same time, Pinkerton, singing his wonderful aria akin to the American National Anthem, tells us that he is ‘a roving Yankee, scorning all risk’. Indeed the Lieutenant Pinkerton of Joshua Guerrero, whilst not a big voice, acts the role of an outrageous cad and only succumbs to the recognition of his terrible actions in his grief at Butterfly’s death. His voice projects well with a ringing top.
His Butterfly, the Cio-Cio-San of the Moldovan soprano, Olga Busuioc, gives us an incredibly powerful performance. Her voice is solid and secure with a wonderful middle and a dynamic top and she reflects the full range of emotions relevant in Butterfly’s character.
The American Consul, Sharpless, is sung by Michael Sumuel, who has a deep sonorous bass baritone, albeit slightly constrained in the higher register. There is a sinister bonze from Oleg Budaratskiy and an elegant Prince Yamadori from Simon Mechlinski. Elizabeth DeShong gives us a devoted Suzuki, with a substantial deep mezzo sound.
The Conductor, Omer Meir Wellber, gives a really pacey and subtle account of the score, albeit with occasionally too substantial a sound, although the wonderful London Philharmonic Orchestra plays for him outstandingly.
By contrast, the Rosenkavalier, directed by Richard Jones and first seen in 2014, but now revived by Sarah Fahie, is full of ideas and occasional contradictions. There is some new and interesting direction and action, with some great comedy timing. At the important moments there is also real clarity in how the artists react to each other and work together. This is particularly so in the first Act between the Octavian and the Marschallin and in the second Act between the Octavian and the Sophie, who in one scene sway lovingly in time together when they first meet. This was very compelling theatre. There were a number of other moments as well, particularly in the third Act trio ‘Marie Theres! Hab mir’s gelobt’.
However, at times the production is somewhat quirky. It is a jumble of periods spanning over 100 years and there are times - for example when the large sofa has to be moved around the stage in the first Act - when there is real concern as to whether the action is really going to work and fit with Strauss’s compelling music and moments. Nevertheless, there is plenty of colour and life and in the end much to commend it, particularly with the humour, most of which revolves around the Baron Ochs of Brindley Sherratt. He was the epitome of the trekking Austrian in lederhosen. His bass voice resonated wonderfully all night and he performed his humorous moments to perfection.
The wonderful cast was led by the Marschallin of Rachel Willis-Sorensen, who provided a sumptuous and elegant tone, matched with a very moving interpretation of the role. She has an incredibly wide ranging instrument with real Wagnerian quality and subtleness when required. Her Octavian was the wonderful American mezzo soprano, Kate Lindsey, who was perfect for the role in all respects. She was never going to suffer the same offence as a certain Irish soprano suffered on the opening night of this production in 2014, when the costume designer, Nicky Gillibrand, did her no favours. She seems to have made up for that this time with beautiful and interesting costume designs throughout the night.
Although the Sophie of the American coloratura soprano, Elizabeth Sutphen, started slowly, she warmed to her part, receiving critical acclaim at the end for her outstanding singing, with great trills and arpeggios.
There was a sweet voiced Italian tenor of Andrej Dunaev, a brilliant characterisation of Valzacchi by Alun Rhys-Jenkins, but oh dear – why the Freud of David Harrison at all! A really unnecessary edition.