Perspective on Madame Butterfly opera in Los Angeles
I recently had the occasion to see the LA Opera production of Madame Butterfly. The production was a classical interpretation of that work and was very well received by the audience. While waiting after the show to meet up with Stefano Secco, who played Lieutenant Pinkerton, I had a chance to meet several of the cast and crew for the production. It is always interesting to see the performers out of costume and get a sense of them as people outside of the roles that they play onstage.
Much of the opera centers on the character of Cio-Cio San, known as “Butterfly” to her Japanese family, who falls in love with and is married to the American Lieutenant Pinkerton, who later abandons her in Japan. This production was no exception. The very talented Ana María Martinez played the role of Cio-Cio San expertly, with a touching performance. There was no shortage of audience members in tears during the last act of the opera.
But what about the role of Pinkerton, the man who abandons his Japanese wife? It is certainly a pivotal role for this opera, yet it is less often discussed.
Stefano Secco was generous with his time and open with his comments about the production in a short interview after the production. It was especially interesting for me to get a sense of what it was like for him to play the much-maligned Pinkerton who treats the lovely and fragile “Butterfly” so badly out of complete disregard for her condition. Through the lens of Stefano’s commentary I could see how difficult it was for such a truly kind man to play what is essentially a villainous character.
Here are the details of the interview:
Q: What drew you to this production?
First of all, I have to say that I love this classical production. I understand every character well since they are being interpreted just as the librettist created them, and the classical staging complements the music and libretto very well for this big work by Puccini.
Q: What do you contribute personally to the production?
I have interpreted this role perhaps more than 150 times. In this particular production, Pinkerton is portrayed as very much an egotist, perhaps more so than in other productions. It seems that the character of Pinkerton in this context is a bit cruel when I look at him from my own personal perspective, yet it is my job to play that character faithfully.
Q: Do you think Pinkerton loves Cio-Cio San?
Unfortunately, I would have to say that Pinkerton doesn’t really love Butterfly. But, in the first act he does have a joyful experience with her. There is a sparkling quality to the closing scene of the first act. The attitude at that point onstage is: “us against the world”. Afterwards, though, it is very difficult for Pinkerton, especially when he realizes the error of his ways.