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Seattle Opera Does Traditional, Clean Butterfly

McCaw Hall
05/05/2012 -  & May 9, 12, 13, 16, 20, 2012
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Stefano Secco (Pinkerton), Doug Jones (Goro), Sarah Larsen (Suzuki), Brett Polegato (Sharpless), Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San), Jonathan Silvia (Imperial Commissioner), Joseph Lattanzi (Registrar), Michael Devlin (The Bonze), David Krohn (Prince Yamadori), Carissa Castaldo (Kate Pinkerton )
Seattle Opera Orchestra & Chorus, Julian Kovatchev (Conductor)
Peter Kazaras (Stage Director), Susan Benson (Set Designer), Susan Benson (Costume Designer), Duane Schuler (Lighting Designer)

P. Racette (© Elise Bakketun)

In Speight Jenkins’ last year at Seattle Opera’s helm, we expected nothing less than an elegant Madama Butterfly produced this month.

In the opera company’s usual fashion, gold and silver casts alternated nights. Opening night, I was treated to tenor Stefano Secco as a somewhat cold and convincing Pinkerton and soprano Patricia Racette, who burst into tragic life in the second act, as Cio-Cio-San.

At her age, Racette did not convincingly portray Butterfly as the 15-year-old naif who bought into a tragic “marriage” with a short-timer American sailor intending to love her and leave her. But in the second act, set three years later than the first when she has been abandoned by Pinkerton, her relatives, and is raising a 3-year-old child, she blossomed in all ways. She was able to convey disappointment, despair, dashed hopes, disillusionment -- the emotions that bring tears to Butterfly-goers’ eyes, even those who’ve seen this piece over and over.

Duane Schuler’s spare lighting and Susan Benson’s clean sets allowed the singers to star. There was simply no interference with the lovely soshi doors on the hill.

Puccini’s achingly melodic music is composed through, touched up with allusions to Japanese folk songs and the American national anthem. Even if the music were poorly performed -- certainly not the case here with the crucial roles of Suzuki (Sarah Larsen) and Sharpless (Brett Polegato) performed professionally and compassionately -- it is hard to object to a Puccini opera. Here it was conducted lyrically by maestro Julian Kovatchev, making his Seattle debut.

Jenkins has such confidence. He doesn’t hesitate to take chances with cast, conductor and artistic talent though he knows he must appeal to the warhorse crowd and tantalize newcomers at the same time. Jenkins can pull off the edgy and the stodgy with consistent aplomb. We will miss him.

Angela Allen



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