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A lurid story advised deftly in M. Butterfly, a brand new opera from Huang Ruo primarily based on David Henry Hwang’s play – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United States Santa Fe Opera 2022 [2] – Huang Ruo, M. Butterfly: Soloists, Refrain and Orchestra of Santa Fe Opera / Carolyn Kuan (conductor). The Crosby Theater, Santa Fe, 3.8.2022. (HS)

Tune Liling (Kangmin Justin Kim) and René Gallimard (Mark Stone) © Curtis Brown/Santa Fe Opera

Director – James Robinson
Units – Allen Moyer
Costumes – James Schuette
Lighting – Christopher Akerlind
Projection – Greg Emetaz
Choreographer – Seán Curran
Refrain grasp – Susanne Sheston

Tune Liling – Kangmin Justin Kim
René Gallimard – Mark Stone
Comrade Chin – Hongni Wu
Manuel Toulon – Kevin Burdette
Marc – Joshua Dennis

Santa Fe Opera took on steep challenges for the 2022 season. All 5 operas within the 38-performance summer season schedule are new productions, together with a world premiere. A number of conductors and a protracted listing of singers are making their home debuts. It’s so much to place collectively, and this primary week in August is the primary alternative to expertise the 5 operas in a single week.

M. Butterfly, composer Huang Ruo’s operatic model of the multiple-award-winning 1988 Broadway play by David Henry Hwang, was slated to debut in 2020 and delayed till now by COVID. It lastly hit the stage on 30 July. Seen and heard in its second efficiency on Wednesday, the opera made an influence with dramatic sweep, terrific and delicate characterizations and music that added extra than simply colour to the story.

Ruo’s rating quotes and alludes to music from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Chinese language opera, however the story additionally offers with sophisticated perceptions of different cultures. We see sexual fluidity otherwise right now than within the Nineteen Eighties, when Hwang’s play with B. D. Wong and John Lithgow debuted on Broadway, and the scandalous and hilarious secrets and techniques got here to mild. (A 1993 movie starred Jeremy Irons and John Lone.)

The plot facilities on a clandestine relationship between a French diplomat and a Chinese language opera singer within the Sixties, when Mao’s China was simply starting to speak in confidence to the West. At a diplomatic get together, low-level envoy René Gallimard, besotted by a lovely singer’s aria from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, strikes up a relationship together with her. He’s tentative at first, and finally extra severe: he thinks he has discovered the proper lady, submissive and seductive, slightly as Pinkerton did within the Puccini opera. Overtones of imperialism and sexism grow to be apparent, and there’s an added layer of ambiguity – Tune Liling is a person taking part in a lady.

They stick with it an affair for years. For a lot of it, Tune was spying for China, gathering data from Gallimard when he was promoted to vice-consul. All of it involves a head when Gallimard known as residence to Paris, sends for his lover, and they’re arrested for espionage.

Tune Liling (Kangmin Justin Kim) and René Gallimard (Mark Stone) © Curtis Brown/Santa Fe Opera

The opera does a greater job than the play did of displaying us how this seemingly unimaginable story might have occurred. Ruo’s music helps by making manifest the parallels with Puccini’s opera – particularly how cultural variations go away the principle characters perceiving one another by means of totally different cultural lenses.

The rating weaves the Puccini references into a definite musical model. Stressed, nervous rhythms permeate the music from the opening phrases. Though the orchestration employs no Chinese language devices, it creates the sound successfully at instances with European strings, winds and percussion. Ruo additionally makes use of Chinese language opera swoops and different gestures in his lengthy, prolonged vocal traces, and never simply by Asian characters. This someway struck me as much less efficient, even intrusive.

Dramatically, this model of the story explores how the lovers’ fascination with the connection blinded them to actuality. A shocking scene late within the opera finds them each within the Paris jail. Confronted with the truth that his lover was a person, Gallimard resists the reality and sends Tune away, however not earlier than Tune demonstrates to him that the pores and skin they touched stays the identical.

The fulcrum that makes all this stability is Korean-born Chicagoan Kangmin Justin Kim, whose liquid countertenor and lithe physique language convey the character to life. Elegant and alluring in each voice and stage motion, Kim’s portrayal is convincing from the start. He additionally delivers the show-stopper, an aria in Act II (‘Awoke as a butterfly’) that nods to a Chinese language opera basic, The Butterfly Lovers.

Tune Liling (Kagmin Justin Kim) in temptress mode © Curtis Brown/Santa Fe Opera

‘I do know the reality and so I fake’, she sings. ‘I awoke as a butterfly who goals of being human, and I’m a human who dreamed of being a butterfly’. It ends with the character fluttering off into the darkish to a few of Ruo’s most touching music.

London-based Baritone Mark Stone (who sang Sharpless in Welsh Opera’s Madama Butterfly in 2021), was indefatigable as Gallimard, singing in nearly each scene by means of the three-hour opera. Within the ultimate scene, he reenacts Butterfly’s ritual suicide with aplomb and style, the character lastly acknowledging that within the relationship he was Butterfly not Pinkerton. As a musical coup de theatre, Tune returns – too late – in a person’s go well with singing ‘Butterfly! Butterfly!’, in a detailed adaption of the final notes of Puccini’s opera.

Additionally spectacular in supporting roles had been Chinese language mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu as Tune’s spy handler and baritone Kevin Burdette because the French ambassador, each vivid creations of character and vocal flexibility. The corporate refrain distinguished itself as nicely, each as a snarky crowd amused by the scandal and as partygoers within the embassy receptions.

Holding all this collectively from the pit, conductor Carolyn Kuan drew vivid taking part in and clean transitions all through. Born in Taipei and now conductor of the Hartford (Connecticut) Symphony, Kuan additionally performed Ruo’s Dr. Solar Yat-sen in Santa Fe in 2014.

Director James Robinson and scenic designer Allen Moyer, whose latest credit embrace Hearth Shut Up in My Bones on the Metropolitan Opera, created a clean slate of a set. Sliding panels supported projections and framed a colourful boudoir which rolled onto the stage to supply a location for the lovers’ trysts. The opera was as satisfying to have a look at because it was to listen to.

Harvey Steiman



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