OPERA / Opera de Lyon / Kent Nagano - Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture
A successful performance of opera in Symphony Hall is all a matter of good behaviour. Everyone from the tam-tam to the lead soprano can sound gorgeous, but it takes a deal of politeness to draw all the elements together into a convincing whole. If they are all determined to indulge themselves in the hall's acoustic, the drama in a piece becomes the first victim. Sadly, this is what tended to happen, particularly in the first act, with Opera de Lyon's Madama Butterfly. Kent Nagano's Puccini is elegant and neat, if occasionally breathless. He also knows when to pull the stops out. The trouble was that his orchestra responded with too much gusto. With the soloists in front of the band, a slight visual problem became an unnecessary acoustic one.

This was a pity since Michie Nakamaru was an eloquent, affecting Butterfly providing veiled as well as ringing tone. Vyacheslav M Polozov, as Pinkerton, was thrillingly Italianate and held his own against the orchestra better than any. Richard Stilwell (Sharpless) and Hak-Nam Kim (Suzuki) brought distinction to their roles, and the few notes given to Annie Vavrille as Kate Pinkerton left the audience panting for more. Paul Whelan as the Bonze had the best deal since he unleashed his denunciations from behind the orchestra, a position which allowed his fine resonant tone to ride a band bent on enjoying itself at the expense of effective balance.

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