MADAMA BUTTERFLY: Robert Wilson’s Triumph


madame butterfly

No one has represented American avant-garde performance more faithfully for over fifty years than Robert Wilson.

But Winston Churchill noted,

“To each there comes in their life time a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents.”

For Mr. Wilson, his special moment brought him to Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904), in what must be considered a definitive interpretation.

Mr. Wilson’s unique, and sometimes baffling experiments, with language, movement, light, and properties, blossomed in a work Wilson called Puccini’s “slow poetry of the soul.” The aesthetics of this production and the acting are largely inspired by Butoh, a Japanese form of dance characterized by slow motion, poetry and minimalism. Wilson’s concept fit nicely in the sleek Japanese flavored  Opera Bastille.

The stage is a Japanese playing space with modified hashi gakari, kagami-ita, and butai. Wilson and choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi developed a palate of gestures, poses, and movement patterns, or kata, which did not illustrate the words, but rather commented  on them. Conductor Daniele Rustioni seemed to highlight the percussion of the musical score. The costumes by Frida Parmeggiani explored an Asian silhouette for all the characters, emphasizing the stature and grandeur of the players. The light of Wilson and Heinrich Brunke created an ongoing canvas against which, and in which, the passions played, ebbed, flowed, and eventually crashed.

Into this world of great theatricality and convention arrived the most glorious of singers, led by the Ukrainian star soprano Oksana Dyka, playing Cio-Cio to Piero Pretti’s Pinkerton. Ms. Dyka’s “Un bel di” was, as usual, the spine-chilling, hauntingly beautiful highlight of the event. I doubt I’ll ever hear it sung better.

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