Recently, I’ve been staying with my family near Lucca, in Tuscany. Lucca is a gorgeous medieval city and its two greatest achievements are having maintained an intact city wall for 500 years and being the birthplace of Puccini. With this in mind, the Comune di Lucca in collaboration with the University of Western Ontario organised performances of operas on the city walls and while I was in Lucca I was able to go to one of these – Madama Butterfly (there was no performance of Tosca, which I thought was surely a missed opportunity if you have a wall to perform operas on).
The set was laid out on a small platform on one of the bastions found at each corner of the walls, next to the row of trees at the edge of the outer wall itself. It consisted of three white screens at the back of the platform and various large white egg-like things on the floor (these were used as essentially every prop that was needed, from the flowers they decorate the house with to Butterfly’s child). There wasn’t very much seating, so most people sat on the grass or on the stone ruins surrounding the seating. Dusk had begun by the time it started and by the end it was completely dark.
This performance was an edited version of the opera and as I didn’t know Madama Butterfly very well to start off with, I couldn’t always tell exactly what was going on or which bits had been cut out. The idea was to show the events of the opera as either a series of flashbacks or events imagined or dreamt by Butterfly. I was mostly able to follow what was happening – the plot essentially went as you would expect, but occasionally cutting back to Butterfly and Suzuki waiting for Pinkerton to come back. They cut out some of the duet between Butterfly and Pinkerton and, as there were only four singers, any parts for anyone other than Butterfly, Pinkerton, Suzuki or Sharpless. The only part of this editing that I found really confusing was right at the end, when Butterfly didn’t kill herself and just carried on singing. I wasn’t able to follow what she was saying and so had no idea what was going on. It ended with her tearing open one of the screens at the back and walking off that way. While the extra bit was perfectly nice to listen to, I still have no idea where it came from or what it meant.
The singers all performed well – Cecily Bednarek as Butterfly sounded a little unsure of herself to begin with but once she had got past “Un bel di”, which she sang beautifully, her voice became more confident, as did her acting. Leanne Kaufman (Suzuki), Kyle Melton (Pinkerton) and Mattia Campetti (Sharpless) all sang confidently as well, but it was Butterfly’s show, as in this edited version she had by far the most singing and was on stage all the way through. The Humming Chorus was the only part of the singing that I really didn’t like: it doesn’t work with only four people singing it. To be honest, it would probably have been better if they’d just got the audience to sing along.
It was a really interesting and enjoyable version of an opera that I haven’t really listened to much and because of the setting and its history, it was a unique experience.