Soprano who made a hair-raising Madama Butterfly
Monday 26 July 2004
Yoko Watanabe, like many another Japanese soprano, spent a large part of her career singing the protagonist of
Madama Butterfly, all over Europe, in North and South America and in Australia. However, unlike some of her compatriots, she also sang other Puccini roles - Mimi in
La Bohème, the title roles of
Suor Angelica and
Manon Lescaut, and Liù in
Turandot, which was possibly her finest interpretation of all.
Yoko Watanabe, opera singer: born Fukuoka, Japan 12 July 1953; married Renato Grimaldi; died Milan 15 July 2004.
Yoko Watanabe, like many another Japanese soprano, spent a large part of her career singing the protagonist of Madama Butterfly, all over Europe, in North and South America and in Australia. However, unlike some of her compatriots, she also sang other Puccini roles - Mimi in La Bohème, the title roles of Suor Angelica and Manon Lescaut, and Liù in Turandot, which was possibly her finest interpretation of all.
Her repertory also included Micaela in Carmen, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Marguerite in Faust, Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra and, towards the end of her career, Adriana Lecouvreur in Cilea's operatic version of the play by Scribe.
Yoko Watanabe was born in Fukuoka in 1953. She studied in Tokyo, gaining a diploma in piano as well as singing, and went on to study in Milan. In 1978 she won a singing competition in Treviso, where she made her début as Nedda in Pagliacci. For a while her career lay mostly in Italy - she married the Italian tenor Renato Grimaldi - and she sang Butterfly at the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and at Genoa. Then in the early 1980s she sang Mimi in Basle, Cologne and Frankfurt, and Butterfly in Madrid, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and Berlin. In 1983 she appeared as Butterfly with the Royal Opera in Manchester and in 1984 as Liù with the Royal Opera in Los Angeles.
Watanabe's Butterfly was no ordinary geisha. She was described by one critic as "a proud, determined, sometimes strident child-woman". Her finest moments were those of the most intense emotion, such as the sighting of Pinkerton's ship, when her great cry of "Abraham Lincoln!" raised the hairs on the back of one's neck. Similarly, the farewell to her child before she kills herself was filled with, not pathos, but a truly scarifying and passionate grief. In the Americas she sang the role in Toronto, Detroit, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, Santiago, Buenos Aires and for her début at the Metropolitan, New York in 1987. That year she also sang Butterfly with Scottish Opera.
Meanwhile, Watanabe had made her début at La Scala, Milan, in 1985, singing Liù in Turandot. Once again, her characterisation of the slave girl was highly original, and, again, it was finest in moments of extreme tension. Faced with the Princess Turandot and her torturers in the third act, this Liù entirely forgot her lowly status and treated her rival for the love of Calaf as an equal. In December 1991 the Royal Opera, in conjunction with Raymond Gubbay, gave a number of performances of Turandot in the Wembley Arena. There were several casts, and the first featured Gwyneth Jones as Turandot and Watanabe as Liù, and their confrontation was magnificent.
Watanabe sang Butterfly at Covent Garden in 1992, when "Abraham Lincoln!" was more hair-raising than ever, and her whole performance was strongly dramatic. In 1994 she sang Amelia in Simon Boccanegra in Tokyo, but did not get very good reviews. The same year she took on a new role, Adriana Lecouvreur, in Adelaide. She had sung Butterfly in 1991 at Adelaide, conducted by Richard Bonynge (apparently the first time he had conducted Puccini's opera), and he had asked her back for Adriana Lecouvreur.
The opening night was fine musically, but undramatic. However, by the end of the run she had found her way inside the character of Adriana, and her recital of the passage from Racine's Phèdre earned tumultuous applause.
Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way
Florida mother launched a petition to ban the sale of the dolls
Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis
Ottawa shooting: Canadian soldier dies after being shot at National War Memorial – with one gunman killed inside parliament
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
Isis releases first video showing the stoning of woman accused of committing adultery as her father shouts 'don't call me Dad'
Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Diwali 2014: What is the festival of lights and how is it celebrated around the world?
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...
£90 - £140 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Sixth for...
£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...