Opera at its best takes the universal themes of humanity and brings them to life in the space and time of a live performance.
Few universally popular operas have had as harrowing a premiere as Madama Butterfly, which met with a disastrous reception on its 1904 opening night in Milan. The public, believing Giacomo Puccini was borrowing music from his own La bohème, hooted with derision. Frequently the singers could barely hear the orchestra, the noise in the theater was so overwhelming. Throughout the performance, that audience found every possible reason to ridicule the music and what transpired onstage.
Just a few months later, everything changed when Puccini’s revised version was introduced in Brescia, launching the work on a conquest of opera houses worldwide. Indeed, over the past 116 years Madama Butterfly has become one of the best-loved operas in the repertoire. And yet, in today’s world, this work prompts a range of issues and questions, to which any company producing the opera must respond. We want to strongly encourage you to read the articles in this program by Prof. Martha C. Nussbaum of The University of Chicago and soprano Ana María Martínez. Their views provide illuminating insight as we consider Madama Butterfly with today’s lens, while at the same time continuing the Lyric tradition of captivating audiences with Puccini’s breathtaking music and heartbreaking characters.
It’s a pleasure to welcome two remarkable singing actresses, Lyric favorite Ana María Martínez and, in the March 4 and 7 performances, Lianna Haroutounian in her Lyric debut. They’ve both triumphed repeatedly in major houses portraying Cio-Cio-San, one of the most formidably challenging of all leading soprano roles. Each soprano will be partnered at Lyric by an exceptional tenor portraying Lt. B. F. Pinkerton, with Ana María appearing opposite Brian Jagde and Lianna opposite Brandon Jovanovich. With the crucial support of Deborah Nansteel as Suzuki and Ryan Opera Center alumnus Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless, the interpretive insights of returning conductor Henrik Nánási on the podium, and the exquisitely sensitive production of Michael Grandage (revived at Lyric by Louisa Muller) – so successful when we first presented it in 2013|14 – this will certainly be a memorable occasion for all who experience one of these performances.
As we present Madama Butterfly, we’ve just passed the midpoint in a season of exciting transition and transformation. Like so many arts organizations nationwide, Lyric is addressing the growing competition for audience attention and donor investment. We’re working diligently, and creatively, to expand our audience base, grow ticket sales, secure new sources of revenue, and engage the communities we serve – and we’ve seen significant success from these endeavors. Our ability to fill the house for grand-opera performances is, in fact, unusually high among large American opera companies, which we help accomplish through our season-planning process and adoption of innovative marketing strategies. Our community programs devoted to learning and creative engagement now reach more than 86,000 people each season in schools and neighborhoods throughout Chicago and the suburbs.
As we look ahead, all of us at Lyric, onstage and behind the scenes, will continue to build on this progress. We’re confident that we’re on the right path, and we thank you for your support of everything we do. In closing, we welcome you to Madama Butterfly. We know it will be an unforgettable highlight of your operagoing this season
Anthony Freud General Director, President & CEO The Women’s Board Endowed Chair