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The Return of a Favourite

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
09/26/2009 -  & 29, 30 September, 8, 10, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31 October, 3 November
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Adina Nitescu*/Yannick-Muriel Noah (Cio-Cio-San), David Pomeroy*/Bryan Hymal (Pinkerton), Allyson McHardy*/Anita Krause (Suzuki), James Westman*/Brett Polegato (Sharpless), Steven Cole*/John Kriter (Goro), Robert Pomakov (the Bonze), Peter Barrett (Prince Yamadori), Justin Welsh (Yakuside), Alexandra Lennox (Cousin), Lilian Kilianski (Mother), Jennifer Robinson (Aunt), Michael Uloth (Imperial Commissioner), Neil Craighead (Official Registrar), Laura Albino (Kate Pinkerton)
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus, Sandra Horst (Chorusmaster), Carlo Montanaro*/Derek Bate (Conductor)
Brian Macdonald (Director), Susan Benson (Set & Costume Designer), Michael Whitfield (Lighting Designer)

A. Nitescu & D. Pomeroy (© Michael Cooper)

Madama Butterfly holds the record as the most produced work in the 60-year history of the Canadian Opera Company, having appeared in no less than 15 of its seasons. The current production was first staged in 1990 when the company anticipated the construction of a new opera house. A recession killed that project and it was another 16 years before Toronto finally got its purpose-built theatre. Susan Benson’s glowing designs looks as if they were always meant for the stage they now adorn.

My admiration for this work grows with every hearing. Its inventive score always manages to help convey the accompanying drama. Even Joseph Kerman, the notorious Tosca-hater, singles it out for praise in his landmark book Opera as Drama. Brian Macdonald (now 81 and looking frail while taking his opening night bows) has returned for the revival, no doubt a crucial factor in the freshness and sensitivity of so much of the stage action. His background as a choreographer is evident (but not intrusive) in his handling especially of the wedding scene.

Adina Nitescu gives ample demonstration as to why her Cio-Cio-San is in wide demand. She has the physique du rôle as well as the voice with the right balance of vulnerability and strength. David Pomeroy, in his third lead role in the four seasons in the new house, goes from strength to strength. His high-lying phrases soar organically without strain or lunging. Allyson McHardy (Suzuki) is a cherishable performer but I could have used a bit more volume in places, such as when she is confronted by Sharpless and Pinkerton in the final scene.

The one drawback is the portrayal of Sharpless as a caricature of a diplomat, always in cutaway coat, top hat and spats. Still, James Westman gives a thoroughgoing portrayal.

The numerous comprimario parts are strongly performed. Steven Cole is a characterful Goro, and having Robert Pomakov as the Bonze and Peter Barrett as Prince Yamadori is downright luxury casting.

In his local debut, Carlo Montanaro’s conducting has sweep and sensitivity, while the orchestra and chorus are up to their usual high standard.

Michael Whitfield’s atmospheric lighting is the ideal complement to the overall look and feel of the piece. (Incidentally he and Ms Benson are married.)

The second cast of the 15-performance run is also of great interest.

Since 2006 it has been interesting to see productions originally seen in other venues brought out of storage for use in the Four Seasons Centre. I hope to have seen the last of some of them, but this one (although it doesn’t have to return as frequently as in the past) is definitely a keeper.

Michael Johnson



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