L.A. Opera Triumphs With Puccini And Strauss

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Opera scored two recent successes with its magnificent productions of MADAMA BUTTERFLY and DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN by Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss, respectively. Both operas will alternate through much of March, followed by THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, Mozart's beloved comedy (May 22-June 19).

MADAMA BUTTERFLY was directed by Robert Wilson, who first mounted his production of the Puccini classic a decade ago for the Opera Bastille in Paris. Utlilizing lush, stunning lighting effects, a pared-down acting style, a near-bare stage and striking costumes, Wilson has taken the text down to the bone, restricting movement, letting the music and singing carry the evening. The result was a Noh Theatre-like kind of opera which brought out the power and poignancy of Puccini's east-meets-west tragic love story.

The singers delivered the vocal goods, particularly Angela Maria Blasi as Cio-Cio-San, Alan Opie as Sharpless and Susanna Poretsky as Suzuki. John Matz made a strong contribution as Pinkerton.

The dramaturgy and story-telling aspects of DIE FRAU might be confusing and even crazy--there are various sets of protagonists, birds who turn into women and back again, wives who sell their shadows to royalty, unborn children who sing in unison--but thanks to David Hockney's magical sets, valiant vocalizing by the six principals (Robert Dean Smith, Inga Nielsen, Wolfgang Bredndel, Linda Watson, Doris Soffel and James Creswell), and Strauss' opulent, torrential music, DIE FRAU came off in transcendent fashion.

Both DIE FRAU and BUTTERFLY were also aided greatly by Kent Nagano, who conducted the hard-working Los Angeles Opera orchestra with much finesse.