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Triumphant and touching

Albert Storace finds a superb Miriam Gauci for this year’s Madama Butterfly.

Enrico Castiglione’s set design was simple and effective.

Enrico Castiglione’s set design was simple and effective.

A standing ovation, no less, greeted Miriam Gauci, twice, at the end of her triumphant performance of Puccini’s ‘Japanese’ masterpiece at Gozo’s Aurora Opera House. As I remarked at the end of her highly successful lieder evening at the Manoel Theatre some months ago, hers then was not a comeback but a continuation.

If those who missed that event were sceptical as to what she could do with Butterfly after years of not having sung a full opera, such doubts were swept aside after this performance.  She went in to the deep end, because Madama Butterfly is a very tough nut. The soprano taking this role has to be on stage almost all the time through the three acts, here reduced to two by artistic director Enrico Castiglione.

However, knowing Gauci’s track record, Madama Butterfly is the role with which she is most indelibly associated. Yes, of course, I love her Mimi, Manon and Angelica – but, the tragic Japanese heroine is a role she brings to life in every imaginable way. Gauci is Butterfly when she sings and acts this role and, meeting her on stage after the performance, she still had not quite come out of it. The emotion was still intense for her and for the public.

Madama Butterfly is a very tough nut. The soprano taking this role has to be on stage almost all the time through the three acts.Madama Butterfly is a very tough nut. The soprano taking this role has to be on stage almost all the time through the three acts.

There were few empty seats at the Aurora and fewer hearts that were not touched by this superb performance.

This production will long be remembered

The opera was a Gaulitanus Choir production as part of the 11th edition of the Gaulitana Festival’s final weekend of events, whose artistic director Colin Attard directed the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in a pretty slick reading, which only at isolated moments tended to be too overwhelming  in some ensembles. The Gaulitanus Choir was in attendance, and very well-trained and on cue they were, too.  Castiglione’s set design was simple and effective and there was no appearance of Butterfly and her retinue entering the scene crossing the usual ever-present bridge in Act I.

For some reason, Castiglione dispensed with Trouble’s presence in the final scene. The little boy did the part perfectly but his dark hair did not match Sharpless’ remark at one point about the child’s blond hair! Sonia Cammarata’s costumes were very good but I cannot for the life of me figure out the absolutely awful design of Pinkerton’s uniforms!

The little boy did the part perfectly but his dark hair did not match Sharpless’ remark at one point about the child’s blond hair.The little boy did the part perfectly but his dark hair did not match Sharpless’ remark at one point about the child’s blond hair.

Speaking of Sharpless, Alberto Mastromarino was excellent in the role, and so was Rossana Rinaldi’s Suzuki, two very well-etched important supporting roles. Tenor Vincenzo Cos­tanzo’s Pinkerton was acted very well, enough to make him the despicable cad that he is in this tragic story. It is his voice which was disappointing, specifically in the upper register, which was too thin. Roberto Covatta’s Goro was very good as the unctuous, gossipy, at times malicious and nosy match-maker. Lesser roles were creditably taken by Louis Andrew Cassar as the irate Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle who repudiates her with her family and friends following suit.

David Debono’s purposely stiff and mechanical courtship of Butterfly as Prince Yamadori was amusing, especially when he made his exit in high dudgeon and affronted pride. Joseph Lia was the Imperial Commissioner, Ian Grech the official Regsitrar and Patricia Buttigieg as Kate Pinkerton could not but look awkward. That is because her minor role is a very awkward one and one would not have blamed her if one were to imagine a sequel in which she ditched her worthless husband when seeing all the mischief his selfishness had wrought.

All in all, this production will long be remembered.

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