The premiere performance of this run, held on July 16, transfixed a capacity audience, thanks in large part to a bravura performance by soprano Ira Bertman in the lead role of Cio Cio San, Madama Butterfly.
Latvian-born Israeli Bertman is a familiar figure to Israeli opera goers. A graduate of the Israel Opera’s Meitar Studio, she sang the lead role of Leonora in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, just six weeks before tackling the challenging role—dramatically, if not always vocally—of Cio Cio San.
After her magnificent rendition of Un bel di vedremo, the famous aria that begins Act II, the audience interrupted the performance with sustained applause.
Enthusiastic applause also followed the Act I love duet of Cio Cio San and her husband, American sailor Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, the lead male role, ably sung by Uzbeki tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov, in only his second appearance with the Israel Opera.
As Lieutenant Pinkerton, Mavlyanov also has noteworthy counterpoint duets with Romanian baritone Ionut Pascu as US Consul Sharpless.
It was not only the singers who merited prolonged applause.
Conductor Daniel Oren turned and faced the rear of the hall as he led a hidden offstage choir in the hauntingly beautiful coro a bocca chiusa—the Humming Chorus—in a wordless interlude that was as powerful as the emotions portrayed onstage.
The always energetic Oren conducted the Humming Chorus, accompanied by the Israel Opera Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeTzion, with subdued passion that held the audience enthralled, until they responded with thundering applause.
This production marks the first time the Japanese director Keita Asari and revival director Michiko Taguchi work with the Israel Opera.
The costuming is authentic, and the production values atmospheric, with skillful use of lighting that evokes moods of anticipation and foreboding as day turns to night and then to dawn.
Interestingly—and perhaps controversially—the interpretation of Asari and Taguchi eliminates two of the most dramatic final scenes in the opera: Madame Butterfly’s blindfolding of her young son, and, crucially, the return of Pinkerton to the house at the time of Cio Cio San’s suicide.
While her death is no less tragic, and dexterous manipulation of colored cloth depicts her bleeding to death, the cowardly and remorseful American officer never reappears to witness the hara-kiri of the woman he betrayed.