Madama Butterfly, a timeless tale of love, loss and devotion, is one of the world’s most popular operas. From New York City, to Rome and Finland, our globe-trotting Madama Butterfly artists have performed in opera houses and festivals around the world. We asked them to share their favourite stories, memories and behind-the-scenes tidbits from this beloved opera.
I had one of my most memorable Butterfly experiences when I was working, for the first time, with a certain singer notorious for slowing down the tempo in performances – but in rehearsals, this singer asked me not to slow down his part. When it came time for the performance, the Concertmaster (who had known this singer for years) asked me if I was sure about keeping the quicker tempo. I replied confidently, “Of course! Rehearsals have been going well!” But when the performance started, the singer was in a completely different world, singing his part much slower and making it impossible to go at the speed we’d rehearsed. When I looked down at the pit, I received a beautiful, knowing smile from the orchestra. These things are part of the fun of opera!
My best Butterfly stories typically involve my various “Troubles.” The situations I’ve dealt with have been hilarious, heart-warming and sometimes exhausting! The best moments seem to occur during “Dormi amor mio” at the end of Act II. I am always a bit tired at that point and, apparently, so are my Troubles! On more than one occasion the child has actually fallen asleep, and, I must remind any of you who are unaware, a sleeping child is MUCH heavier than one who’s awake! So to carry a child AND sing becomes more challenging. Once my little Trouble actually snored during the entire exit and I had to physically rouse her to wake her up when we got offstage! In a recent production, I also had the great pleasure to work with a lovely little boy whose mother informed me that he had referred to me as his “adult girlfriend.”
When I sang my first Butterfly, I was quite young for the role. The general consensus is that you should wait until you’re older and more established because it’s so difficult. I sought out a lot of advice and basically everyone said “No.” But I’m a little headstrong and decided I wanted to do it. And the biggest factor for me – other than that when you’re a young singer, you’re crazy to say no to anything – was that Colin Graham was directing it. He was such a well-known director, and he spent a large part of his life in Japan and knew a lot about the culture. So I knew that if I took this opportunity to do that Butterfly with him, I would really learn a lot. And sure enough I did. I learned about Japanese gesture and culture. And I just loved that man to death. I wound up doing a good handful of operas with him. My husband and I even ended up naming our son after him.
The first time I sang the role of Pinkerton was in a beautiful city: Rome. It was 2002. In addition to the huge emotions about making my debut in such a great theatre, I was also curious about the other singers. Cio-Cio San was African, Kate Pinkerton was Korean, the American Consul Sharpless was Uruguayan and I’m an Italian playing an American. It was a very interesting situation! That’s the beauty of music – it’s a universal language! It was an extraordinary experience.
ANDREA CARÈ (Pinkerton)
I arrived in Finland in mid-June from Italy, where it had been 34 degrees and sunny. Finland was cold, windy and rainy. No one spoke to me because my English was really bad at the time and I didn’t know even one Finnish word. After 10 days of rehearsal, the weather changed and the sun started to shine on the wonderful castle of Olavinlinna and I fell in love with the woman who was to become my wife! She was acting as an extra in the production, where she actually played a ninja. The newspaper version of our story is that I fell in love with two wonderful blue eyes jumping out from a black ninja suit, while I was singing in a romantic and breathtaking castle in the middle of Finland. The truth is that I started to “stalk” that ninja during rehearsals that took place in a much more modest and less romantic place: a gym. A few months later, I found myself spending much more time in Finland than in Italy, and that summer that ninja married me.
I have had the pleasure of working with both Kelly Kaduce and Patricia Racette in Madama Butterfly. Kelly was my first Butterfly at Santa Fe Opera. One evening, after we had finished scattering petals during the "flower duet” and the news of Pinkerton’s return had been delivered, a storm blew in. As the drama intensified on stage, the wind picked up the flower petals and swirled them onstage while lightning flashed on the horizon. Mother Nature provided us with stage effects that no amount of money could buy! That production also understood the importance of all of the characters. Suzuki is so much more than a servant; she is Butterfly’s one true friend. And the audience sees and feels what Suzuki does – a silent worry and attachment to a young girl who stands to lose everything for love. My most recent Butterfly was with Patricia Racette at San Francisco Opera, and while visually stunning, it called for the singers onstage to be truly substantial actors and actresses so that the story didn’t become lost in the vivid setting. Pat was just the kind of dramatic force needed to lead the cast. It is a pleasure to revisit our roles together again at COC!
Most recently I was in a performance at the Met and took out my prop glasses to read the letter to Butterfly in Act 2. The glasses had gotten bent while in my pocket and they wouldn’t stay on, so I had to incorporate broken glasses into that beautiful, intimate moment but they kept popping off. I finally put them away and pretended to read the letter holding it far away like I do in real life. It was distracting, but these things happen... and they are the things you always remember.
I was scheduled to debut the role of Sharpless with Vancouver Opera in November 2004; however, that summer, while attending a friend’s wedding in British Columbia, Opera Lyra called to request that I replace their Sharpless who had cancelled due to a family crisis. Rehearsals were to start in 10 days, so I returned to Toronto and got to work. After four furious days of memorizing and coaching sessions, I was ready for rehearsals to begin. I was pleased with my performance and, if the reviews were any indication, the show was a huge success. Ten seasons later, I’m excited to reprise the character of Sharpless and I am grateful to have more than 10 days to prepare!
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Go behind the scenes with us as we discover the COC's classic production of one of the world's best loved operas, Madama Butterfly. This Inside Opera instalment features rehearsal footage and interviews with sopranos Kelly Kaduce and Patricia Racette, conductor Patrick Lange, and director Brian Macdonald.
Madama Butterfly plays for 12 performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from October 10 to 31.
For more information, click here.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001