Puccini’s Madama Butterfly hardly needs any introduction, being one of the top 10 operas performed yearly in both the U.S. and Europe. The story of a young geisha jilted by a selfish, predatory American naval officer has gripped audiences since the first decade of the 20th-century, as has Puccini’s masterful score.
Opera Omaha’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio brings vintage nightclub glam to Mozart’s beloved comedic Singspiel. The audience gets to enjoy the playful plot without all the dated humor and Turkish stereotypes that came with the original opera setting, a choice that allowed the virtuosic vocals to reign supreme.
Throughout the production, one could see many of these geometric shapes infiltrating the scene at many different points. Characters maneuver around them and discuss plans in their shadow. This rendered the Act III trio somewhat difficult to follow if you were seated on one of the sides of the theatre, given the lines of sight.
A wild visual ride from start to finish, it's great lighter fare to warm you up in the winter. I really appreciated the gestures (blunt as they were) to the fact that this started as traditionally holiday fare in Europe, yet didn't feel out of place a month after Twelfth Night.
The sum of all its parts coalesced into an evening that was immensely fun for the whole audience, and even got surprisingly political in the way Beaumarchais meant. Perhaps some of the orchestral playing was shaky in spots, but otherwise this production had barely a blemish on it anywhere. It is Le nozze di Figaro at its finest, and it was a comedic romp that is one for the ages, as far as this opera goes.
Even with Gershwin's best intentions in demanding that this opera only ever be produced with an all-black cast, it is nonetheless apparent that this was and is an opera written for the white gaze. Be it the cringe-inducing libretto, the caricatured depiction of Southern accents (both white and black), the depiction of the hyper-saturation of religion in black communities (on and on with talk of the "promised land") and the gross exaggeration of Bess as the quintessential portrait of semper femina.
The music, while still adhering to some trappings of the medieval stylings, began to explore outside the bounds of its medieval stylings in order to do something new. The libretto, already full of pathos for its subject, finally found its stride as far as moving the plot at a good clip.
Mezzo Jamie Barton inhabited the lead role of Léonor very naturally indeed, especially in her aria “O mon Fernand,” itself a perfect example of Donizetti’s felicitous employment of confident Parisian harpists and wind players in prominent positions. Such inspired orchestrational choices are the sort of thing that give great singers an optimal point to start their dramatic conceptions of such arias.
Stage Director Kristine McIntyre brought Poulenc’s one woman drama into the modern era with her own updated translation of the libretto. Performing the opera in English removed the need for supertitles which let the audience focus on the drama. In addition to the telephone, McIntyre added in some new technologies such as a smartphone and tablet.
Richard Strauss's Salome has always been a controversial opera, to say the least. The premiere performance in 1905 was not particularly well received, though famously the premiere was attended by Giacomo Puccini, Gustav Mahler, and Adolf Hitler. Based off of Oscar Wilde's play of the same name, Salome comes from a Biblical tale, though highly erotic and controversially murderous.