Poor, poor Cio-Cio-San.
One has to think that, somewhere deep down, the teenage bride whose name means “butterfly” knows her American husband, a U.S. naval officer named Pinkerton, is not planning to come back to Nagasaki, Japan and pick up their married life again and raise their baby boy who was born after Pinkerton shipped out. Everyone warns her of this: her maid Suzuki; Goro, the marriage broker who arranged for her union with Pinkerton; Sharpless, the American consul. But, outwardly, anyway, she remains faithful to her delusion — for as long as she possibly can.
It’s not giving anything away to sketch the simple plot of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly,” even for those who have never seen it or who don’t know anything about it. The plot almost isn’t the point. In fact, a more complicated or involved story would get in the way of what is the point of this early 20th-century favorite of the repertoire, which is the depths of the emotions, the beauty of their expression, the shades and nuances and subtleties that give characters dimensions.
A high-definition broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Madama Butterfly” — directed by British film director Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient,” “Cold Mountain,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) and starring soprano Hui He in the title role — is the first of two evenings of classical music presented by the Grand Teton Music Festival in January. “The Met: Live in HD” opera production screens at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson Hole Twin Cinema, and this month’s free community concert, set for 7 p.m. Friday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, will bring husband-and-wife duo Cahill and Heather Smith from Utah State University to perform music for piano and cello.
Cellist Heather Smith graduated from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and has taught and performed throughout the southeastern United States and in Taiwan.
Pianist Cahill Smith grew up in rural Alabama and also earned his doctorate in music at the Eastman School, where he was awarded honors for performance and teaching. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2013 and has since given recitals and appeared as concerto soloist in China, Ireland, Ukraine, Mongolia and throughout the United States.
For his Carnegie debut, and in many appearances since, Cahill Smith has championed the music of Russian composer Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), a prolific composer for piano and a contemporary of Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff, who called him “the greatest composer of our time.” Even so, Medtner was largely lost in history after his death. It took several decades for him to be rediscovered and regain recognition.
Smith dedicated his first solo album to Medtner’s “Forgotten Melodies.” Released in January 2019, the album was named “CD of the Week” by Classical Radio Boston, which raved: “Smith is careful to reveal bits of the DNA of all the pieces on the recording while keeping the emphasis on the sheer beauty of their character.”
Cahill Smith will naturally perform some of Medtner’s “Forgotten Melodies” Friday night — short parlor pieces that at turns bring to mind Chopin, Debussy, Brahms, even Stravinsky and salon-style tunes of the 1920s.
Heather Smith will enjoy some solo time as well, with a cello arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Five Romances. The couple will open their program with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 — two curious late movements that catch the composer thinking about ways he can overturn stale musical conventions of the time — followed by “Ricordanza (Soliloquy for Cello and Piano)” by American George Rochberg.
“Ricordanza” was composed in 1972, but it would have greeted appreciably in any fin de siecle drawing room in Europe. Some have called is “anti-modernist,” and indeed Rochberg rebelled against the mathematical rigors of his day, starting in the mid-1960s, after the death of his teenage son, rejecting serialism and returning to an aching, unabashed romanticism as the only way to express his grief.
In February, the Grand Teton Music Festival is set to continue its offseason programing with its Winter Festival — featuring pianists Kimi Kawashima and Brooks Hafey, bass-baritone Timothy Jones and clarinetist Blake McGee, and the Viano String Quartet — running from Feb. 6 to 8. The festival will also screen the Met’s first production of George Gershwin’s groundbreaking “Porgy and Bess” on Feb. 13. For info and tickets for these and all other Festival events, visit GTMF.org or call the box office at 733-1128. ￼