Madama Butterfly Leaves You Breathless
San Diego Civic Center
05/09/2009 - & 12, 15, 17, 20 May 2009
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San), Carlo Ventre (B.F. Pinkerton), Malcolm MacKenzie (Sharpless), Suzanna Guzmán (Suzuki), Joseph Hu (Goro), Scott Sikon (The Bonze), Joseph Pechota (Imperial Commissioner), Jason Detwiler (Prince Yamadori), Crystal Jarrell (Kate Pinkerton), Tom Oberjat (Registrar), Billy Temple (Trouble)
Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Timothy Todd Simmons (Chorus Master), Edoardo Müller (Conductor)
Garnett Bruce (Director), Michael Yeargan (Scenic Designer), Anita Yavich (Costume Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Alan Burrett (Lighting Designer)
(© Ken Howard)
Confusion and tragedy erupt when East meets West. An American’s vision of marriage-on-a-whim does not lie on the same azimuth as that of a geisha from Nagasaki. In short, two worlds collide in the end with severe consequences.
Such are the ripe ingredients that swirl into the recipe of Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly. It wasn’t until the year 1900 while in London attending David Belasco’s one act play, Madame Butterfly, that the Italian composer sensed yet another operatic opportunity. Originally based on American John Luther Long’s novella, this Japanese tragedy underwent a significant metamorphosis. Despite a disastrous opening at La Scala on February 17, 1904, Puccini returned to the drawing board to make extensive revisions that resulted in becoming one of the most popular works in today’s operatic circles.
Returning from last year’s Aida, Garnett Bruce transforms Francesca Zambello’s concept into a poignant production. Before the music begins we are introduced to an open stage which summarizes the crux of the matter: A symbolic representation of two conflicting cultures. In the background The United States flag is draped on five shoji screen panels that contrasts with an assortment of Japanese landscape sections displayed in the foreground. Tony Award© winning Michael Yeargan transforms the stage with appropriately minimalist sets in order to yield stronger focus on the singers themselves.
The evening, undoubtedly, goes to Patricia Racette who delivers a flawless performance. This is one of Ms. Racette’s signature roles, one into which she pours every ounce of heart and soul that leaves the audience spellbound. Her Cio-Cio-San is classic, grabbing attention from beginning to exhaustive end. The degree by which we’re thrown into her plight of hopes and dreams substantiates the claim that opera IS the most sophisticated art form in existence. After a four year absence, Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre returns to San Diego Opera as lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton whose torment is convincingly realized during the final moments of the opera while lovingly clutching his son, Trouble, thoughtfully acted by the adorable Billy Temple. Mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán also delivers a marvelous performance as Butterfly’s devoted servant, Suzuki.
Many high and low moments are accentuated by Alan Burrett’s spectrum of lighting such as the vibrant red curtain crashing to the floor signifying Madam Butterfly’s death, in Act II’s intermezzo introducing Timothy Todd Simmon’s “Humming Chorus” performed offstage and the Butterfly/Suzuki flower duet. Edoardo Müller’s tutelage hones in on the musical dynamics acutely and effectively for maximum impact just as period appropriate costumes designed by Anita Yavich add a tasteful dash of texture and pleasing color pallet to the Puccini score. This co-production with Houston Grand Opera would not be complete without the continued gifts of makeup designer Steven W. Bryant.
Returning from last month’s Marullo in Rigoletto, Malcolm MacKenzie is well suited in the role as Sharpless as is Joseph Hu who sings Goro with a delightful humoristic flair. Scott Sikon’s barreling baritone-bass voice lends dramatic religious tension in Act I as The Bonze while Jason Detwiler making his debut as Prince Yamadori and returning Crystal Jarrell as Pinkerton’s wife, Kate, provide a rounded fit for an already stellar cast of seasoned artisans.
Madama Butterfly closes San Diego Opera’s 2009 season with a flair. It is a five-star performance in every aspect and well worth a visit to “America’s Finest City”.