Hong Kong, 21 July 2006 – Edo de Waart will open his third Season with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO) in September with romance, drama and intrigue, as he leads an all-star, international cast in two concert performances of Madama Butterfly, Puccini's best-loved operatic opus. A timeless operatic masterpiece of love, betrayal and sacrifice, Madama Butterfly has won the hearts of audiences for over a century. It also has a special connection with the Hong Kong Philharmonic: thirty years ago, it was the first opera presented by the Urban Council and directed by Lo King-man that HKPO accompanied after it turned fully professional.
Chinese soprano He Hui, who has captured the hearts of French, Italian and Viennese audiences in five different productions of Madama Butterfly, will star in the title role as Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). American tenor Andrew Richards, who recently wowed Berlin and Frankfurt audiences as Pinkerton and will debut at the Royal Opera House this Season in the same role, will star as the U.S. Lieutenant. The rest of the cast includes 27-year-old Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova, who has made successful appearances with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Suzuki; Australian baritone Peter Coleman-Wright, who regularly appears with the English National Opera, the Royal Opera House and Opera Australia, as Sharpless; and well-known Hong Kong-based tenor David Quah as Goro, who made a strong impression as the Young Servant in Elektra last September.
Madama Butterfly is the talk-of-the town this year as it is Anthony Minghella (Academy Award winning director of The English Patient)'s first foray into the opera world. Staged in April this year at the English National Opera (ENO), his award-winning production of Madama Butterfly was a co-production of the ENO, the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the Lithuanian National Opera, with costumes brilliantly designed by US-based Shanghainese fashion designer, Han Feng. The same production will also open the 2006/07 Season this September at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, conducted by James Levine.
"Opera-in-concert can be as gripping as fully staged opera. With opera-in-concert, you just concentrate on delivering the plot, without having to worry about lights, make-up and complex staging," says Edo de Waart, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Indeed the overwhelming response to Salome and Elektra in the past two seasons has proved the conductor right. "The music becomes the sole focal point. Not being distracted in any way, I was totally captivated by the music, something I have never experienced before…. opera-in-concert has succeeded in opening up enormous room for musical imagination using a totally different format" (review in Hong Kong Economic Journal, January 2005).
One of the most popular operas today, Madama Butterfly's premiere performance in 1904 at La Scala, Milan, was in fact a total disaster. After making various improvements, Puccini staged it again in a small town, Brescia. This revised version was greeted with enthusiasm and Madama Butterfly has since become one of his best-loved operas. Edo de Waart said: "Madama Butterfly is definitely one of my favourite operas and one that is very close to my heart. I have conducted this opera many times, including most recently, a run of 18 performances in a Robert Wilson production at the Netherlands Opera. What a joy to conduct this great Puccini opera night after night! I'm sure Hong Kong audiences will enjoy it as much as I do."
The tragic love story was set in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1904. B. F. Pinkerton, a US Lieutenant who travels the world in search of pleasure, marries a young geisha Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) in the knowledge that the contract could be become void at one month's notice from either side. Despite strong opposition from her family, Cio-Cio-San is determined to get married in the hope of starting a new life. Pinkerton returns to the US, while she faithfully awaits his return and bears him a son in the meantime. After three years, he finally reappears, with an American wife, hoping to adopt the son borne to him by Butterfly. She is heart-broken and kills herself using the Mikado's knife, which her father used to commit hara-kiri (a form of ritual suicide by disembowment).
Madama Butterfly has had enormous influence on popular culture. Among others, it inspired the Broadway and West End musical, Miss Saigon, as well as M. Butterfly, a play by David Henry Hwang (later made into a 1993 movie by David Cronenberg), which reversed the destinies of Butterfly and Pinkerton in a love story between a French Diplomat and a 'female' Chinese opera singer. Un Bel Di (One Fine Day), the signature aria in Madama Butterfly, also became one of the most popular opera arias of all time. Sarah Brightman and Christopher von Deylen of the German trance group, Schiller, have both released a song using parts from the aria.
The official website of HKPO's Madama Butterfly in concert is www.hkpomadamabutterfly.com
He Hui soprano
"The debut of Hui He in the role of Butterfly was sensational: she has convinced not only with her big voice, her wonderful technique and her marvellous timbre, but also she touched with a deep and emotional interpretation. The best Butterfly that you can wish. The standing ovation was really deserved!" (Wiener Zeitung, 2004)
He Hui was born in Xian in China. She was catapulted to fame after winning Second Prize in Placido Domingo's Operalia International Competition, held in Los Angeles in September 2000, and then First Prize at the 42nd Verdi's Voice International Competition in Busseto, Parma, in April 2002. He Hui's career has been closely connected with Madama Butterfly. In 2003, she sang Cio-Cio-San at the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Italy, where Puccini was buried. The following year, she sang Cio-Cio-San in a new production of Madama Butterfly at the Volksoper in Vienna with great success, drawing rave reviews from the media. In the same year, she was Cio-Cio-San in a new production organized for the Centenary of Madama Butterfly at Teatro Del Giglio in Lucca (where Puccini was born) and then in eight Italian theatres (Livorno, Pisa, Sassari, Bolzano, Trento, Rovigo and Parma).
Andrew Richards tenor
"Relaxed and singing with muscular tone, emotional dedication and Italian sweetness, one might see why the young geisha is so smitten…" (Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Florida, 2004)
Andrew Richards is earning international recognition as an exciting lirico-spinto tenor (a 'lyric' tenor who can also be 'pushed' to sing more dramatic roles). In September 2004, Richards made his debut at the Dresden Opera in Madama Butterfly and at the Hamburg State Opera as Alfredo in La Traviata. He returned to the Miami Opera for Madama Butterfly. In February 2005, he starred in the Frankfurt Opera's new production of Gounod's Faust and then sang his first Cavaradossi in Tosca for Michigan Opera Theater. In autumn 2005, Andrew Richards began his association with the Berlin State Opera where, in the first season, he is heard as Don Jose, Cavaradossi, Pinkerton, Rodolfo and Macduff. Andrew Richards will make his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2007 as Pinkerton. A graduate of Eastman School of Music, Andrew Richards has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including First Prize at the 1999 Enrico Caruso Competition.
Ekaterina Gubanova mezzo-soprano
Born in 1979, Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova was trained in the Moscow Conservatory and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She became the youngest member of the Vilar Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in September 2002. She sang performances as Suzuki, Madama Butterfly, among other roles, for 2003/04 Season at Covent Garden. After finishing the Young Artists Programme, she has sung the Third Lady in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Emilia in Verdi's Otello and Brangäne in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at Opéra National de Paris. The critical response to her debut in the role of Brangane has been outstanding and she returns to the same opera house to sing Suzuki, Madama Butterfly and Nicklausse, The Tales of Hoffmann. Recent concert engagements include Verdi's Requiem in Tokyo under the direction of Muti, Mahler's Resurrection Symphony under the direction of Gergiev as part of a tour to Israel with the Kirov and Beethoven's Missa Solmenis under Haitink with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Peter Coleman-Wright baritone
Australian born Peter Coleman-Wright is widely considered one of the most versatile singers in the world today, equally at home in opera, concert and recital. He appears regularly with English National Opera, having sung the title roles in Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Billy Budd, and creating the roles of John in Jonathan Harvey's Inquest of Love and Colin in David Blake's The Plumbers' Gift. He is also a regular guest at Covent Garden, having sung Papageno, Marcello, Ping (Turandot), and Gunther (Götterdämmerung). For Opera Australia, he has sung Billy Budd (for which he won MO and Green Room Awards) and the title role in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (winning the 2002 Helpmann Award for Best in a Musical). He made his European debut with the Netherlands Opera (Busoni's Dr. Faust), returning for La bohème and Les Troyens and has sung La bohème in Geneva and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly. Much in demand as a concert artist, he has performed throughout Britain, the major European capitals, and at New York's Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls. He has recorded for EMI, Chandos, Telarc and Hyperion labels.
David Quah tenor
David Quah won the coveted Mariannce Mathy Australian Singing Competition and made his professional debut singing Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni with Opera Queensland. He returned to Hong Kong in 2000, regularly performing in Southeast Asia and is very active in the local music scene. In 2002, he was invited to perform for President Jiang Zemin during his visit to Hong Kong for the 5th Anniversary of Reunification. His repertoire ranges from Baroque music to contemporary works, from Chinese folk songs to Broadway musicals. He sang in both opera-in-concerts, Salome and Elektra, with the HKPO under the baton of Edo de Waart.
Wah Ching Chinese Medicine Foundation sponsors
Madama Butterfly in concert
Concert performance of the opera in 2 acts, including a 20-minute intermission
Performed in Italian with Chinese and English surtitles
16 & 18 September 2006 (Sat, Mon) 8pm
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
$600, 450, 300, 150
Available from URBTIX from 21 July
Reservations: 2734 9009
Credit Card booking: 2111 5999
Enquiries: 2721 2030
Edo de Waart conductor
He Hui soprano, as Cio-Cio-San
Andrew Richards tenor, as B. F. Pinkerton
Ekaterina Gubanova mezzo-soprano, as Suzuki
Peter-Coleman-Wright baritone, as Sharpless
David Quah tenor, as Goro
Members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Chorus, as Cio-Cio-San's relatives, friends and servants
The rest of the cast to be announced
Madama Butterfly in concert is sponsored by Wah Ching Chinese Medicine Foundation.
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ABOUT THE HONG KONG PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is rapidly emerging as Asia's leading orchestra, since internationally renowned Edo de Waart joined as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor in the 2004/05 Season. Throughout the last three decades, the Orchestra has grown into a formidable ensemble of Chinese and international talents, attracting world-class artists to perform on the same stage. It gives over a hundred performances annually, many of which are highly anticipated events in the city's cultural calendar. The Hong Kong Philharmonic reaches out to the community with such diverse activities as a comprehensive music-in-education programme for primary and secondary school students, performances at university campuses, an annual project with the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts to help nurture aspiring professionals, free pre-concert talks that provides in-depth knowledge of music and musicians and an open-air concert that gives the public free access to classical music.
Philharmonic Orchestra is subvented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
SWIRE is the Principal Patron of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.