The original Madama Butterfly in Riga

Tonight we attended our second performance at the Opera House in Riga. The city boasts an excellent opera house set in beautiful gardens, so that standing on the spacious balcony overlooking the park having a drink in the interval on a sunny summer evening is an enormous pleasure.

The performance of Manon Lescaut, though, was not such a pleasure. It was generally well sung but suffered from a pretentious production where in the last act where Manon and Des Grieux are supposed to be perishing in the desert, we find ourselves in the waiting room of a psychiatric hospital – maybe it was meant for the director.

On the previous night in the same theatre – we were in the midst of an annual opera festival, this year devoted to Puccini – the fare was on a much higher plane with the original 1923 production of Madam Butterfly. Not only miraculous in having had Puccini’s personal blessing, the beautiful original designs and staging were nothing short of a revelation, putting to shame the fakery of most modern productions. One example: when Kate Pinkerton arrives to take the child, there was none of the politically correct delicacy on her part about taking the child from Butterfly that you see these days. In this original version she took the child with disdain and hauteur as if even being in the presence of the geisha was beneath her.

On our first night in Riga, through the recommendation of our Latvian friend in Sydney Ojars Greste, we visited the amazing ALA Folk Club, a cavernous basement complex where folk groups from all over Europe and beyond perform their hugely varied styles of music. Their level of excellence was matched by many of the extraordinary instruments they played. We consumed gigantic dishes of hearty Latvian food and stayed till the small hours, though our friends Matthew and Leone Lorrimer, both architects, left early, explaining thet the place was a fire hazard, having only one entrance/ exit.


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