Madama Butterfly – Puccini’s seminal opera – tells a tale as old as time. Equally heart-wrenching as it is enthralling, it has only grown in popularity since its debut more than 100 years ago. Localiiz speaks with Lo Kingman, the Artistic and Executive Director of Musica Viva, ahead of the organisation’s production of Madama Butterfly, from December 7 to 9 at City Hall.
Puccini’s Timeless Tale
Hong Kong born and raised, Lo trained at the Opera Theatre of Rome and the Morlacchi Theatre of Perugia. He was also the recipient of an Italian government scholarship to study at the University of Rome. His work with Musica Viva (a not-for-profit performing arts organisation) now focuses on creating productions that promote Hong Kong’s local talented musicians, artists and talent.
Lo, whose first encounter with the opera was the 1954 film rendition, was immediately enamoured with its score. “The first time I attended a stage performance was in the early 1960s, in a school hall in Hong Kong. I was very disappointed – an important work of Madama Butterfly’s quality should never be attempted by amateurs”.
Lo counts Madama Butterfly “among the most enduringly popular masterpieces of the western operatic artform”. Of the over 200 productions he has directed, it is the one he has staged the most – on average, every seven years, he tells us. The opera tells the tale of American naval officer Pinkerton who meets and marries a young geisha. Butterfly treats the marriage as a lasting, lifelong fervour, while Pinkerton’s affections prove far more fleeting. Butterfly is left lovelorn and with child as Pinkerton boards his ship and heads back home, with a promise (never fulfilled) to return for her. Far from a tale of star-crossed lovers, Madama Butterfly chronicles an unrequited love, and ends in heartbreak, loss and tragedy.
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A Star-Studded Spectacle
“The story is simple”, explains Lo, “but what makes it a great work of art is Puccini’s immortal music”. He continues, “It perfectly expresses the characters’ emotions and mental states, describes atmosphere and situations, conveys the intensity of drama and poignancy of feeling, […] and gives the whole work its sense of lyrical beauty”.
Chronicling cross-cultural relationships and challenges, Madama Butterfly is a unique production that transcends geographic borders. This makes it perhaps uniquely poised to be staged in Hong Kong – Asia’s world city.
It is also a production that requires the highest calibre of artists to re-enact. Lo has enlisted two Korean sopranos – Sylvia Lee Sung-eun and Myung-Joo Lee, for next month’s production. “Sylvia is a world-famous high coloratura soprano, who recently joined the Metropolitan Opera of New York”, he explains. Myung-Joo, he continues, “achieved success in the role of Butterfly starring in the renowned Royal Albert Hall in a London production”. The role of Pinkerton is shared between two American tenors, Dominick Chenes and Jeffrey Hartman.
Madama Butterfly will be performed from December 7 to 9 at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.
Tickets are priced between $180 – $680 and are available via Urbtix.