I love opera, bluegrass, burger joints and fictional detectives. Mostly, but not always, in that order. Formerly of Dunedin, formerly of Sydney, now travelling the world with the tenor in my life (Stuart Skelton) and blogging as I go.
It was all well and good preparing myself for Cheryl to cancel on night two, but having been wrong once, it didn't occur to me that it might be good psychological insurance to repeat the process until I was about fifteen metres from the theatre. Thus, not surprisingly, since it's the way these things always work, this was the night I was right. I scanned my cast list as a matter of course, and my initial, idiotic reaction was "why haven't they listed Cio-Cio San?". Then my brain caught up with me and pointed out that yes, they had listed her, she just wasn't being sung by Cheryl.
Sigh. I was a little disappointed, but, believe it or not, not heartbroken. For various reasons. One, because it was still in the back of my mind that she might cancel, so I was readyish; two, because there are still plenty of chances to hear her in the role; and three, because I'd actually ever so slightly hoped that this would happen. Yes, really. You see, Antoinette Halloran is scheduled to take over at the end of this month and for all of February. I like Antoinette Halloran a lot. And so, despite being booked to see Cheryl's Butterfly more times than any sensible person should see anyone's Butterfly in close succession, I still wasn't going to miss the chance to hear Antoinette take it on. So I was prepared to pay for yet another ticket and see yet another performance in order to do so; but it had occured to me that it would save money and help prevent Butterfly fatigue if Antoinette just happened to sing one of Cheryl's performances. And that's exactly what happened.
So I shrugged off my disappointment at the absence of Cheryl and turned my thoughts to the imminent joy of Antoinette. I've had a curious relationship with Antoinette's voice of late, but there is something about her I can't resist, even if I have occasional doubts about her. I had reasonably high hopes for her Butterfly: it's a role she's sung before, she'd already taken over at least two performances in the Melbourne season last month, and it's only a couple of weeks until her scheduled debut here.
Usually, if I'm faced with a last minute substitution for somebody I really wanted to hear, it takes me an act or so to reconcile myself to the change. This time, though, my genuine happiness at the opportunity to hear Antoinette ahead of schedule already put her at a distinct advantage. And her performance, I'm very happy to say, continued the good work. She was absolutely beautiful. I wondered if I could love another Cio-Cio San so soon after Cheryl. With her first notes and first glance, Antoinette showed me I could.
Perhaps she doesn't have the role under her skin quite yet, but nobody would expect her to. Nevertheless she gave an engaging, moving portrayal, as vivid in her own way as Cheryl's or anybody's. In her facial expressions, and in the first act especially, Antoinette did seem, consciously or unconsciously, to be channelling her immediate predecessor, but not in a way that came across as deliberate imitation. The character became more her own as the evening progressed, and grew into quite a different creature, a younger, more openly ardent Cio-Cio San. Vocally, the first act was her best, with the long and gruelling second act a bit less secure, although not without its thrills and moments of loveliness. No doubt one day, when she too has sung Butterfly a million times (and I daresay she shall) she'll master the art of pacing herself, but the sheer exuberance of her performance did a lot to compensate for occasionally uneven singing.
Nerd that I am, I couldn't help playing spot the difference, noting which bits of stage business were changed and which were common to both. I saw that Antoinette knelt to scatter her flowers, rather than gliding about the stage. Also that, where Cheryl actually picks the child up and swings him about while singing, Antoinette left him on the ground and held his hand — and fair enough too, I couldn't believe it when Cheryl kept singing under the weight of a six year old in motion. Other tiny details too, but so trivial as to make the preceding points seem vastly significant.
Julian Gavin gave what sounded to me his best performance yet. Or maybe it was just that I was in my most acoustically advantageous seat so far, right at the front of the loge. Either way, this was the night which really made me sit up and listen to his voice and think how fortunate we are to have such an attractive and secure voice in this role. My affection for Catherine Carby continues to grow. Roll on, I Capuleti — I sense a Sternstunde coming on.
One final point, while I'm thinking of it — I very much like the way Shao-Chia Lü has been beginning each performance. Much like Simon Hewett in Otello (and he was following Simone Young's lead in doing so), there is no initial applause for the conductor's entrance. He sneaks into the pit ahead of time, and only steps up to the podium as the lights are going down, just in time to start the performance with a bang. It worked a treat in Otello, with its opening storm; Butterfly hasn't just a turbulent beginning, but the effect is equally striking. A few tourists at the second performance wrecked it by applauding once the orchestra had started, but they were silenced reasonably quickly, and otherwise it's worked well.
And thus, with the above, I bring myself at long last up to date. Tomorrow night is my fourth. I'm afraid I can neither promise nor threaten to keep on posting about every singly performance. I mightn't have the stamina, and you certainly could be forgiven for giving up on me until I find another topic. We shall see. In the meantime, there's a Cav/Pag opening on Saturday, so the advent of a non Butterfly post is closer than you think.