On and around the stage since age 7, Phil has been on nearly every side of it, both professional and amateur. He has been involved in over 100 productions, from major corporate and government events to playing an on-stage prop in a walk-on role.
On Wednesday, March 1st, we were treated to a peak at a working rehearsal for Madam Butterfly. And it really was a treat. If you haven’t seen an opera, this may be the time to check that off the list. Even if you may not appreciate the length (2:30 running time) or the style, you will still be able to appreciate the level of detail and work that has gone into this art.
The set, scenery and staging of this production are top notch. The set is simple on face value, but complex in its usage. With shōji (Japanese paper walls and sliding screens) giving layers of depth and dynamicism to the stage, there is a sense of movement even in stillness and rigidity when moving.
The score is an east-meets-west masterpiec of turn-of-the-20th-cetnury era. Watching conductor Lawrence Foster stop on occasion to give notes on minutae and details drove home the fact that he wanted nothing less than perfection for these performances, of which Dubai will be his final on this piece.
Opera is an incredibly difficult art form to master. Unmic’d vocals, real emotion… the performers need to grip every member of an audience at at distance. And they did. Even for a rehearsal, it was easy to tell these were truly wonderful performances.
So, are we just saying this all because we are art lovers? Well… yes, in a way. During the rehearsal, we didn’t have the benefits of surtitles. My Italian is weak at best, but enough to get by in understanding basic conversations. Opera? Yeah, not so much. Emma was lost, but knew the story. With the surtitles (both English and Arabic), much would change.
That said, we were still able to enjoy the artistry and story of it. We would recommend seeing this piece as it is a remarkable example of an artform which you might find you like. It is worth seeing purely for the performances, but discovering you love a different type of art: that’s priceless.
Before the rehearsal, we were able to speak with the two tenors playing Pinkerton, Jonathan Burton (who I somehow managed to rename Brian before the interview) and Paul Charles Clark, as well as mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who plays Suzuki, Cio-cio-san’s servant.
It was wonderful speaking with cast members who truly displayed that opera is not as “stuffy” or pretentious as it may seem. They were an affable and fun group to talk to. Unfortunately, we lost the video due to a technical issue (the main reason we didn’t post this sooner), but we’ve posted the interview as audio only:
Madam Butterfly is on at the Dubai Opera from March 2 – 4. For tickets or more info, head to dubaiopera.com.