At 14, Butterfly is sylphlike, beautiful, an enchantress. When American sailor lieutenant Pinkerton hears her sing in a nameless Japanese port near Nagasaki, he is bound to succumb.
They are married, inseparable for as long as duty keeps Pinkerton at the port, but, like all sailors, he leaves promising to meet “when the robins nest again”.
The orchestra rehearses at the NCPA, Mumbai
A love duet (Soprano and Tenor), end of part I.
Butterfly waits for her American husband, even as everyone around her is convinced she has been abandoned. She refuses the advances of other suitors, as gossip about the doomed marriage spreads all over Nagasaki.
A long Soprano of painful longing, end of part II.
After three years, the curtain goes up on Butterfly, her maid Suzuki, and Sorrow, Butterfly’s three-year-old son. As an American “white sheep” approaches the port, Butterfly is ecstatic. Pinkerton returns, but with his American wife, Kate, who begs Butterfly to give them her child.
The final Soprano of tragic grandeur is an ode to Sorrow.
The curtain falls on Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated opera Madama Butterfly, to be performed in Mumbai by the Symphony Orchestra of India and a cast of international artistes.
The Italian composer was known for the continuous flow in his melodic style, an influence of the German composer Richard Wagner, says Johannes Wildner, guest conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of India. Puccini is also known for the use of voice in a style that is akin to human speech: Characters sing short phrases one after another as if they were talking to each other. Madama Butterfly is a perfect showcase of Puccini’s gifts, adapted by orchestras all over the world. It was last performed in Asia, in December 2007 at the Ankara Opera House. Opera singers of the Parma Royal Theatre Orchestra of Italy, which performed at Delhi’s Old Fort in December 2007, rendered some of Puccini’s classic arias along with those of Verdi, Donizetti and Rossini, and enthralled audiences in the Capital.
Johannes Wildner is the guest conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of India
The fourth season of the Symphony Orchestra of India is shaped entirely by its music director, Kazakh violinist Marat Bisengaliev, and the team accompanies Russian opera star Elmira Veda in Soprano and Mario Malagnini in Tenor for the Indian debut of Madama Butterfly. Says Veda, “Last year, I performed at Torie Del Lago in Italy, which is Puccini’s birthplace, and they were the best moments in my life. I have tried to tweak my style now and then, but for this performance I’m going to stick to the one that was appreciated in Torie Del Lago.”
It is, as both Bisengaliev and Wildner say, a bold, ambitious move for the two-year-old Symphony Orchestra of India. The 86 instrumentalists on the violin, the cello, the horn, the saxophone and the harpsichord are from 14 nationalities, mostly from Europe (12 of the 86 performers are Indian and about 15 are from Japan).
Russian opera star Elmira Veda plays the lead
“This year, we have managed to rope in Citibank as our sponsor, Bisengaliev has brought in young musicians from orchestras all over Europe, so the scale is grander and the quality much more polished,” says Khusroo Suntook, founder of the orchestra and Indian partner of Bisleri (India) Pvt. Ltd.
The season premiered with a concert of pieces by Georges Bizet, Giuseppe Verdi, Johann Strauss, Maurice Ravel and others at the Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium, NCPA. Wildner conducted the 86 musicians and Bisengaliev’s three solos, where, as the violin virtuoso said, he could “show off”. Two other concerts followed, with guest musicians John Lenehan (piano) and Raphael Wallfisch (cello) accompanying Bisengaliev. Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, famously written for the Austrian city of Linz, came alive with Wildner’s flamboyance—he was himself a violinist for the Vienna Philharmonic until he turned conductor 17 years ago. Wildner is not a stranger to the small coterie of Western classical music aficionados in Mumbai, the only Indian city that has nurtured this pure, precise form of music. The Opera House founded in the early 1920s was meant exclusively for Western classical music performances. After a slump in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a revival in the 1960s, when singers such as Cecilia Lobo and Mae Ferreira flourished in Mumbai. “We are trying to revive the Opera House Culture. The only name that most people in Mumbai now associate with Western classical is Zubin Mehta,” Suntook says.
For the Austrian conductor, Asia is where a lot of his work is now. “The future of Western classical music is really in Asia. Japan, Korea and many Asian countries are taking to Western classical music in a very serious way and we’ll get to see many gifted musicians from this part of the world in the next few years,” Wildner says.
For Bisengaliev, the man who has the vision for the Symphony Orchestra of India, Madama Butterfly is going to be the biggest challenge of his stint in India. Czech stage director Karel Drgác is making the most of the symphony pit of the Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium; so is Bisengaliev’s team. Every day, until the premiere, the 86 performers have been congregating at the pit, and rehearsing for up to five hours a day, to perfect the right note and the seamless collective symphony, which they have already achieved this season, before the curtain rises on the grand finale.
At the Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium, NCPA, Mumbai. On 27 and 29 February, and 2 March, at 6pm. For tickets, call 022-22824567