Pacific Opera Victoria

Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Dates and Venue 14, 16, 19, 21, 23 February 2008 @ 20.00 Royal Theatre, Broughton Street, Victoria

Cio-Cio-San Sally Dibblee Pinkerton Kurt Lehmann Sharpless Bruce Kelly Suzuki Michèle Losier Goro Eric Olsen The Bonze Chad Louwerse Yamadori Peter McGillivray

Conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia Director François Racine Sets and Costumes Elli Bunton Lighting Gerald King

Reviewer J H Stape

Although it's surprisingly nowhere mentioned in the programme notes for POV's stunning Madama Butterfly, this year marks the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth. And there's much to celebrate about this composer whose intentions are so brightly brought to life in this well sung and vividly acted production in which Sally Dibblee in her début performances of the title-role and Michèle Losier as her maid Suzuki are quite simply superb.

Pacific Opera Victoria can always be relied on to show the familiar in a new light, another plus in this thrilling production, one intelligently conceived and with such clean lines.

The action's time period remains unchanged, but the creative team sets the opera in an Impressionist world, the beautiful costumes Japanese-interpreted rather than slavish historical knock offs, and the homage to Impressionism is right, too : it's abundantly there in the score.

The Japanese concept of "the floating world" is represented in the shimmering and shifting lights, the fluidity of Butterfly's world seen in the fluidity and fragility of her home. This brilliantly supports Sally Dibble's masterly conception: she effortlessly alters from demure maiden, to impassioned lover, to abandoned wife, and loving mother. Her voice is warm and rich, and pours forth sorrow and love with conviction. In verso, she has few peers in the country.

She is ably, if somewhat stalwartly, supported by Kurt Lehman's Pinkerton, who gives to what is often a cardboard role a good deal more than the stiff villain, although, in the love duet his passion lacked bite and fire, his "Vinci, vixen" crooning rather than insistent or in the grip of desire.

Bruce Kelly's Sharp less, the American Consul, was authoritative and compassionate, his acting and singing spot on, while the Suzuki of the young Québécoise Michèle Losier was nothing less than a revelation: focused singing, effective acting, a winning stage presence are the harbingers of, I'd bet, a young star in the making.

The minor roles were nicely taken. Eric Olsen has a proven comic sense and the POV has found a gem of a comprimario tenor in him, his Goro the marriage broker, not only ably sung but shot through with nuances. As Butterfly's Uncle, the Bonze, Chad Louwerse and as Prince Yamadori Peter McGillivray delivered idiomatic performances, with acting skills to boot.

When Maestro Giuseppe Pietraroia is in command in the pit, one is sure of crisp, precise playing, and the Victoria Symphony proved to be in razor sharp condition. Only at one or two moments did the slightly smaller orchestra not overwhelm as a larger one would: the emphasis here -- and very Japanese this -- was on details lovingly and deftly drawn out. The transition between the Humming Chorus and the awakening of Nagasaki was nothing less than breathtaking in its intensity.

Pacific Opera Victoria convinces one of the utter necessity of this art form in the life of a city and in a civilized life: this company brings great art to life in a unique way, and has obviously won over its audience: next year's season, announced in the programme, is Massenet's Thaïs, Handel's Semele, and The Magic Flute.

Talk about an exciting line-up -- and you can be sure that even the oft-performed Mozart work will be enlivened, not by gimmickry, but by real intelligence and a thorough respect for the music and of the audience.

When it comes to opera, this company provides season in and season out, not only the best show in town, but arguably the best on Canada's West Coast.

© 2008 J H Stape