A VERDICT: Anthony Minghella’s debut as an opera director, choosing Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” was a sensation at its opening Monday night. Han Feng’s ravishing but not overwhelming costumes, Michael Levine’s deceptively simple, stylized sets, and Peter Mumford’s lighting work were met with rapturous approval. There is clever and tension-inducing use of mirrors and a surreal, wildly argued-over use of a puppet to “act” the role of Butterfly’s little boy. The puppet, brilliantly handled, was a hot topic of dinner conversation in the lavish tent afterward. (David Moni placed 2,000 white, softly lit Japanese lanterns on the ceiling. Everybody looked about 15 years old.) … Marcello Giordani, as Lt. B.F. Pinkerton, who marries the 15-year-old ex-geisha “Butterfly,” and then abandons her, conveys just the right combination of loutish selfishness and guilt. Other major performers — Maria Zifchak, Dwayne Croft, Greg Fedderly, James Courtney — are all terrific. But on opening night everything belonged to Cristina Gallardo-Domas, as the pathetically needy child-bride who refuses to the bitter end, to believe she has been discarded. She is physically perfect for the role, with a face not traditionally beautiful but enormously appealing. And, this real-life mother of two actually manages to look like a teenager. The diva is vocally splendid and, above all, acts the role with an almost naked emotion. For those who may approach Puccini’s masterwork for the first time with this production, Gallardo-Domas’ poignant effort will be hard ever to erase. … Incidentally, here are some words of wisdom from the great Beverly Sills: “Today, a ‘diva’ means anything. You can make a television commercial with no clothes on cleaning a car. You can make a pornographic video and call yourself a diva. I hate to use the word ‘values’ — but, boy! We have become very undemanding in terms of what is our due. Mediocrity is not our due! And I think we should be insulted when we are presented with mediocrity.” … Jude Law, collecting three glasses of champagne from the bar at the “Madama Butterfly” opening night, asked the dazzled bartender, “So, shall I pay for this in yen?” A smile from the famous heartthrob probably would have been enough, but Jude forked over good old U.S. currency.

MAKING THEIR WAY down the red carpet Monday for “Madama” were Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Jude Law and Sienna Miller, Meg Ryan, Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Jimmy Fallon, Derek Luke, Sydney Pollack and Liv Tyler. Also, Salman Rushdie, Iman and David Bowie, Al Roker, Deborah Roberts, Isaac Mizrahi, Donald and Melania Trump, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bebe Neuwirth, Barry Diller, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Chuck Scarborough, Michael Eisner, Mercedes and Sid Bass, Howard Shore and his wife, Elizabeth, and Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.

ROSIE O’DONNELL invited me to “The View” Monday morning to salute Barbara Walters’ birthday. The lady was surprised when Beverly Sills, Georgette Mosbacher and I showed up, along with others near and dear. Barbara was fresh from 44 hours back and forth to Australia. When “The View” went off the air, she saluted seven staff members whose birthdays also fall this week. There was champagne and an individual cake for each name. … The boss lady said, of her show, “Nobody knew how things would turn out. We didn’t know what Rosie might do. But it works!” … Barbara had rushed to Australia for an exclusive with the wife of “The Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. Terri, his widow, wept and laughed as they talked about his larger-than-life personality.

I’M GOING to bring back the Ten Commandments to the public schools. I may just have to change their name to the Ten Suggestions … But I can’t screw things up any worse than they already are,” says Kinky Friedman, the entertainer-writer who is running for governor of Texas. … Despite his reputation for loose, fearless talk, his shocking one-liners, his truth-telling and his humorous ways, some contend he actually has a good chance to win. His numbers are surprisingly impressive. The other evening, I went to a Manhattan fund-raiser for my old pal “the Kinkster,” up at a gallery on Madison Avenue. Carolyn Farb, Houston’s art collector and generous rich lady, hosted this party. Kinky was in all his glory, wearing his western “Deadwood” type cowboy clothes with a big black hat. … Kinky said to me, “Liz, my detractors are now saying I am a racist because I used the word ‘Negro’ in one of my detective novels long ago. So I just hope you will print that the other day, Oprah on her own show, was asked to describe herself and she said, ‘I am a Negro woman!’ Great god almighty, I have been saved by Oprah!” … Now you may not care who becomes the governor of Texas but as this great state has sent three men to the White House, maybe you should. And if you were an Ann Richards fan, you could memorialize her by endorsing her own candidate — Kinky. And if you are a real Democrat, a populist or a liberal thinking person, I’d say Kinky is your man. I hope he wins.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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