Pacific Opera Vancouver
Dates and Venue April 9, 11, 15 & 17 at 8pm & April 19 at 2.30pm | Royal Theatre, Victoria
Cio-Cio-San Jee Hye Han Pinkerton Adam Luther Suzuki Armine Kassabian Sharpless Bruce Kelly
Conductor and Chorus Master Giuseppe Petraroia Director Diana Leblanc Set and Costume Designer Patrick Clark Lighting Designer Alan Brodie Stage manager Sara Robb; with the Victoria Symphony and the Pacific Opera Chorus
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
Despite its reputation as a powerhouse for ravishing the emotions, opera in performance rarely leaves an audience actually weeping, yet there were few dry eyes in the house during or after POV's current production of Madama Butterfly.
Partly this was due to Jee Hye Han in her North American debut as Cio-Cio-San. A ravishing voice, sweet and clear, meticulous vocal technique and delicate acting defined Butterfly’s mixture of vulnerability and inner strength, her growth from girl to woman and her innate and deep capacity for love.
She was helped by director Diana Leblanc’s understated approach. From the moment the curtain opened on the conductor’s downbeat it was clear that Puccini’s music would be paramount. A clean set by Patrick Clark showed a traditional Japanese house with layers of shoji screens, a blooming cherry tree in the garden against a backdrop of Nagasaki harbour. Alan Brodie’s lighting marked the passage of time and carefully intensified the changing moods. Similar restraint marked the acting, for example the simple gestures Butterfly uses to evoke her life as a geisha, Pinkerton and Butterfly’s gentle stroking of each other’s faces and the almost complete stillness of the night-long vigil for Pinkerton’s return.
Adam Luther made a worthy Pinkerton. That is to say, he eschewed the portrayal of a complete cad, making him a confident young man, genuinely enchanted by his exotic Japanese house and his exotic child bride, worldly enough to know it won’t last. but, ultimately, man enough to understand and feel the tragedy he has caused. Vocally too, he held his own. Facile in his salute to Japan's shifing property and marriage laws, Amore o grillo, in the long duet which closes the first act, Han and Luther captured the music’s soul-searching magic with tender beauty. His final aria Addio fiorito asil delivered genuine, tragic remorse.
Clear-eyed and eloquent in her role as Cio-Cio-San’s loyal companion, mezzo Armine Kassabian provided an aware and steady counterpoint to Butterfly’s determined love-blindness, singing with a range of colour and strength. Again, a duet, Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegi with Han, was memorable.
Puccini knew well how to touch the heart directly. Butterfly’s aria, Un bel di, is perhaps his masterpiece, full of vividly imagined joy and longing. Jee Hye Han inhabited the music as if she had been made for it. Responsive to its fantasy of happiness as well as its underlying grief, the final, descending passages and sudden leap into the stratosphere were sheer enchantment.
James McLennan (Goro), Tyler Fitzgerald (Prince Yamadori), Jeremy Bowes (a demented Bonze) and Jayne Hammond (Mrs. Pinkerton) all gave thoughtful performances
Giuseppe Petraroia drew a delicate, atmospheric performance from the orchestra, full of interest and beauty, well-attuned to the characterization on stage without losing strength and brashness when required. Like the moon, the famous, ethereal humming chorus floated through the air.
Costumes (also by Clark) were as straightforward as the rest of the production. I enjoyed Goro’s increasingly western garb but particularly liked the decision to dress Butterfly in fashionable American dress and shoes after her marriage.
The unity of vision and quality of performance quite simply made this Madama Butterfly one of the best.
© 2015 Elizabeth Paterson