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Powerful projection, paltry pathos

San Diego
Civic Theater
04/16/2016 -  & 19*, 22, 24 April 2016
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Latonia Moore (Cio-Cio San), Teodor Ilincai (Pinkerton), J’nai Bridges (Suzuki), Anthony Clark Evans (Sharpless), Joseph Hu (Goro), Scott Sikon (The Bonze), Bernardo Bermudez (Prince Yamadori), Katarzyna Sadej (Kate Pinkerton), Richie Luhta/Charlie Watson* (Trouble), Michael Sokol (Imperial Commissioner), Nick Munson (Registrar), Ernest Alvarez (Uncle Yakuside), Elena Vizuet (Aunt), Ava Baker Liss (Mother), Lisa Austin Frisque (Cousin)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Charles F. Prestinari (Chorus Master), San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Yves Abel (Conductor)
Garnett Bruce (Stage Director), Roberto Oswald (Set Designer), Aníbal Lápiz (Costume Designer), Chris Rynne (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer)

(© J. Katarzyna Woronowicz)

Back for the ninth time in San Diego Opera’s history, Madama Butterfly’s Opéra de Montréal import brings with it a cadre of fresh and familiar faces. Compared to the 2009 production, Garnett Bruce is a constant, but with it we simultaneously see subtle and blatantly sharp contrasts.

Here, David Belasco’s texted cultural tussle set to music shifts greater emphasis on Japanese mores, trumping American haughty dominance. Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai doesn’t reveal substantive hubris, evidenced by a weakened entrée. Things get better through time, especially when accompanied by Yves Abel’s consistently exceptional blend of orchestral parlance. A tad slight in the lower register, his Pinkerton, overall, sits comfortably in his tessitura and a substantive, illustrious projection.

It’s hard to pull off comedy in opera, and in Butterfly, it’s even trickier. Joseph Hu’s snaky Goro returns with overstated humor and gesticulations. The presence of Consul Sharpless, performed by debuting Anthony Clark Evans, yields firm preeminence and muscular compassion while assuaging Cio-Cio San.

(© J. Katarzyna Woronowicz)

The Goro embellishment arrives ahead of returning Latonia Moore in the title role. Her delivery and vocal suppleness are undeniably rich and earthy, but the approach and demeanor are off kilter: Butterfly epitomizes fragility, coyness and reserve. Just the opposite occurs with Ms. Moore. Her grand entrance is too powerful, thereby snuffing out Puccini’s intended nuanced vulnerabilities. Perhaps a miscue from Mr. Bruce, who, otherwise, achieved a more delicate response vis-à-vis Patricia Racette in 2009.

(© J. Katarzyna Woronowicz)

J’nai Bridges’ Suzuki can lay claim as one of the finest displays of Japanese reserve and restraint. Vocally gifted with effusive, smoky substance, her softness and soulfulness fit like a glove as the devoted servant. It is here (and likely the only place) where true frisson and pathos deeply penetrate the soul. Ms. Bridges expresses her character with moving delicateness; she will go far.

Anchoring Madama around an array of moving shoji panel screens, Roberto Oswald’s zen-like minimalism helps create movement and simplicity. The Puccini three act original truncates into two acts, blurring lines of locations…an ethereal physicality as likely as the mood sweeps reminiscing Debussy. The tree trunk and branchial vestiges laden with pink blossoms of faux plasticity render delightful.

Aníbal Lápiz’s down-to-the-tee affection for authenticity is especially apparent when he pays close attention detail with regard to the distance of the geishas’ collars: measuring an exacting distance of cloth away from the nape of the neck. Tradition solidifies through a saturation of red costuming in the opening choral responses while bathed in Chris Rynne’s innocuously shifting lighting.

Under the direction of Charles Prestinari, the offstage choral numbers suspend in musical gracefulness and elegant blending with the San Diego Opera Orchestra. A direct opposite but with pleasing results are the declamatory responses found within the women’s chorus when Butterfly reveals her Christian conversion.

Tenderness and emotional undertones are decisive factors in rendering a convincing Madama Butterfly. But does vocal strength necessarily pervade the heart?

Christie Grimstad



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