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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

Madama Misses the Mark

Classical Review

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You know that something's not right when you feel no rise of tears at the end of Madama Butterfly, and observe no emotion in anyone in the audience within view. This is despite Puccini's masterfully melodramatic music, and the suicide of a Japanese bride who made the mistake of trusting in the love of an American naval officer. The Florentine Opera production of last weekend missed the mark.

The problem probably was not the cast, which was competent to good. On Saturday evening Barbara Divis appeared in the title role. (Robin Follman played the part on Friday and Sunday.) Divis has enough vocal color and amplitude for Cio-Cio-San; she is capable of shaping a satisfying Puccini phrase. She has the beginnings of the character, but needed stronger direction. As Pinkerton, Scott Piper's hefty and handsome tenor voice was right at home in the role, though he too needed better direction to find the impulsive passion of his character. Baritone Guido LeBron sang well, but could have gone further with wise tenderness as the sympathetic American consul, Sharpless.

The problem was artistic leadership, or the lack of it. Joseph Rescigno's work in the pit in this and other operas in recent years too often sounds as if on automatic pilot, plowing ahead with little regard to overall statement, or to the shapeliness of phrasing. My guess is that the cast had not been fully guided in musical concepts and details. I could not help but think that these singers were capable of much more expression, undermined by disinterested conducting.

We have seen too many Florentine productions directed by Dejan Miladinovic. As in his past work, there was an absence of richness and dimension in the direction, which was peppered with unformed and unfinished ideas. The singing actors appeared to be fending for themselves in finding fully realized characters and depth of interactions.

Bland status quo has been true of too many mediocre Florentine productions in the 24 years that I have lived in Milwaukee; I've seen almost everything the company has done. The Florentine needs fresh and innovative artistic vision and energy.
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