'Madama Butterfly' and 'Il Trittico'
at the 2014 Puccini Festival,
discussed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
The Puccini Festival on the shore of Lake Massacciucoli, near Lucca, is sixty years old. Moreover, Puccini died ninety years ago and Madama Butterfly, one of Giacomo Puccini's most loved operas, had its premiere one hundred and ten years ago. Thus, there is much to celebrate in Summer 2014, especially after the bureaucratic mishap that, three years ago, left the festival without a penny of public subsidy; the festival was eventually held thanks to support from the Hong Kong and Macao opera houses and from a major Japanese company. Now, due to legislation enacted in 2013, the organisation can rely on an annual grant of one million euros in central government subsidy.
Over its sixty years, the festival has had a very useful function, not only in showing new dimensions of the six most performed Puccini operas — Manon Lescaut, Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot — but also in rediscovering less known titles such as Le Villi, Edgar and La Rondine. Il Trittico — a commission by Metropolitan Opera where it was first performed on 14 December 1918 — is especially seldom performed because it is made of three one act operas, very different from each other, requiring a huge orchestra and nearly thirty five soloists. Thus it's a very costly undertaking.
This year the festival includes new productions of Madama Butterfly, Bohème and Turandot and, for the first time in forty years, a new staging of Il Trittico. I saw and heard Il Trittico on 7 August and Madama Butterfly on 8 August 2014.
Let us start with Madama Butterfly, a well known masterpiece which I've often written about here. The Puccini Festival's previous production (read 'Pure Joy', 27 July 2010) had a stage setting by well-known Japanese sculptor Ken Yasuda, the stage director was Vivien A Hewitt and the musical direction was entrusted to Eve Queller. The production, unveiled in 2005, travelled to various opera houses in Europe, the Far East and the USA.
It's not difficult to foresee a similar fate for this 2014 production, a joint venture with Bilbao Opera House, where it will be performed next winter. Stage direction, settings and costumes are entrusted to Renzo Giacchieri, and musical direction to young Spanish conductor José Miguel Perez Sierra. We are taken to a stylized, dreamy Japan where just a few elements and very elegant costumes give us the flavor of the period and the atmosphere of this 'Japanese tragedy'. The cast is very experienced: Micaela Carosi, Renata Lamanda and Giovanni Meoni are, respectively, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki and Sharpless. I have commented on them in these roles several times. The only new face and new voice was the Kosovar Rame Lahaj as Pinkerton, an impressive lyric tenor (although the role requires a heavier texture) who is also an excellent actor. In his early thirties, he is making a career in major German opera houses, mainly in Verdi and Donizetti roles but as his texture gets thicker, he may soon became a very good Puccini hero. In short, he is a name to keep in mind.