Yoko Watanabe

Soprano who made a hair-raising Madama Butterfly

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.

Elizabeth Forbes



Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment