Lightning and thunder premiere in Bregenz: paper makes waves – culture

All alone, Cio-Cio-San is on the empty, white, soaring stage, singing about her hope that her lover will return to her after three years. “Un bel dì, vedremo” – one day, we’ll see – sings Barno Ismatullaeva in mezzavoce and lets her soprano float on the string carpet, while the waves pound the Bregenz lake stage.

The rain had stopped shortly before, so that the 7,000 listeners at this open-air premiere at the opening of the Bregenz Festival (until August 21) pulled back the hoods of their raincoats to listen to the aria from the second act of Giacomo Pucchini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”.

Suddenly the light goes on, weather warning!

To capture every nuance of Ismatullaeva’s vocal art. Then the light goes on in the auditorium and the loudspeakers announce that the premiere will be canceled after an hour of play due to an imminent thunderstorm and will be continued in the Festspielhaus.

The last time that happened was with the revival of “Aida” in 2010. Lake Constance as a natural stage setting, the evening sky as a constantly changing backdrop is the big plus of the Bregenz Festival. On this unfortunately unfinished evening of the premiere, the unique selling point becomes a problem, especially since scenic accents from Andreas Homoki’s production, such as the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship, were only planned for later in the opera.

Technology has often dominated the scene in recent years. Stage sets like the gigantic head in Philipp Stölzl’s great adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” could move and change. They could surprise and lead a life of their own.

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Michael Levine’s undulating stage painted with Japanese landscape drawings is static. Firmly mounted on the concrete foundation, it offers the actors a consistent playing surface with only a few paths that can be walked on. A large sheet of paper floating on the waves is another association that can, but does not have to, arise. Paper as a homage to ancient Japan, but also as a symbol of the fragility that characterizes the title character – Cio-Cio San called Butterfly.

On the empty stage that is their world and that represents old Japan, that represents old Japan, there is no shelter and no retreat for them. Here the American Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton in bright blue dress uniform (costume: Antony McDonald) invades by force by slashing the stage. there is no protection and no safe haven for them. Here the American Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton in bright blue dress uniform (costume: Antony McDonald) invades by force by slashing the stage.

A phallic pole penetrates the hole

Two holes, two injuries are associated with the appearance of the imperialist, who gets a house and a wife for his time in Japan from matchmaker Goro (nicely greasy: Taylan Reinhard). To the aria “Dovunque al mondo lo Yankee vagabundo” (On all seas the Yankee is drifting), which Edgaras Montvidas sings with glowing vibrancy and a lot of vibrato, a mast with the American flag is driven through the hole like a phallus – a powerful image for the confrontation of two completely different worlds and the violent appropriation of one by the other.

Dressed in traditional clothes, Cio-Cio-San can only be heard, not seen, at the first appearance with her shielded friends. Great spatial distance characterizes the meeting with Pinkerton. Again and again she flees to the edge of the stage by marrying the US lieutenant who had been rejected by her relatives, before she wraps the American flag around her body in the second act and hopes with her son (Riku Seewald) for the father’s return.

Light and projection create plasticity

Until the end of the game, the stage is repeatedly bathed in different lights, giving it plasticity (light: Franck Evin, video: Luke Halls). Director Andreas Homoki, once director of the Komische Oper Berlin for many years, also deliberately uses the width in the leadership of the people on the 33 meter wide, 23 meter high and 300 tonne stage.

But in the long run the images repeat themselves. The entrances and exits of the magnificently costumed relatives and the white-robed ancestors are similar, the staging is predictable. Instead of spectacle, there is chamber play-like focus in good moments, and monotony in bad ones. The semi-staged continuation in the Bregenz Festspielhaus in costumes in front of the orchestra saves the evening, at least musically.

Flexibility is important for Puccini

Enrique Mazzola leads the Wiener Symphoniker to a beguiling string sound and a flexibility that is so important for Puccini. Melody lines are savored, people breathe together and accelerate together to the next climax. The brass retains its round, balanced sound even in fortissimo. Coordination is not always perfect with the woodwinds alone.

Brian Mulligan brings nobility and empathy to Consul Sharpless with his cantabile baritone. Annalisa Stroppa, with her relaxed, perfectly executed alto as the servant Suzuki, is a real support for Cio-Cio-San, who has been abandoned by everyone. Barno Ismatullaeva savors all the nuances of the great role, combining with her perfect legato the introverted passages with the emotional outbursts, which have enormous power but no sharpness – a stroke of luck!

After Butterfly’s suicide, the stage set digitally projected onto the screen is on fire. Standing ovations from the Bregenz audience. Andreas Homoki, the director of the Zurich Opera House, is not around. It is bitter that after five years of preparation he can only show half of the production on the evening of the premiere.


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