Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Dates and Venue 29 May and 1, 3, 5, 8 June 2010 @ 7.30pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Cio-Cio-San Mihoko Kinoshita Pinkerton James Valenti Sharpless Jeff Mattsey Suzuki Zheng Cao

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Leslie Swackhamer Chorus Director & Assistant Conductor Leslie Dala Set Designer Jun Kaneko Lighting Designer Gerald King Wig design Stacey Butterworth Musical preparation Kinza Tyrrell and Angus Kellett Stage manager Sheila Munn

Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™

Reviewer John Jane

Vancouver Opera closes out its fiftieth season with Giacomo Puccini’s exquisitely tragic Madama Butterfly. Opera has served audiences with many beautiful tragedies, but none more affecting than Puccini’s beloved story of ill-fated romance. Although first performed over a hundred years ago, its central themes of witless betrayal and unrealistic expectations of marriage are just as relevant today.

Butterfly’s simple, yet touching storyline is set in Nagasaki, Japan where a fifteen year-old local geisha falls in love with an arrogant, selfish American naval officer. They embark on a brokered marriage that the officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton believes, even encouraged by Goro the marriage broker, to consider as revocable with one month's notice. Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) however, understands it differently. She unconditionally accepts her American suitor’s love for real, even forsaking her family and Buddist faith to become a devoted wife.

Such a one-sided love affair can only end in disaster. Pinkerton leaves for the United States with a promise to return to Cio-Cio-San. However, three years pass before his promise is fulfilled and then he is accompanied by his American wife.

Pinkerton is arguably the least sympathetic of Puccini’s tenors. Winner of the 2010 Richard Tucker Award James Valenti is an American tenor for whom the role might have been written. With good looks and six feet, five inches tall he cuts a handsome stage presence. His natural swagger and fine tenor voice make him believable as the heedless Pinkerton. In his tone and demeanour, Valenti plays the role with nonchalant bravado, seduced by Japan’s exoticism, rather than the boorish hedonism of some of his predecessors. This is evident in his agile interpretation of Amore o grillo (love or a whim)at the beginning of act one, where, despite Consul Sharpless’ urging, he appears unaware of any moral obligations.

Mihoko Kinoshita in her Vancouver Opera debut gives an impassioned performance as Cio-Cio-San who occupies the stage for almost the entire performance. Her singing is athletic and passionate and her graceful movement exposes the nuances of both a naïve girl and an enervated mother. She delivers her showpiece aria, Un bel dì, vedremo (one fine day) with pristine tone and Tu? Tu? Picolo Iddio (you, you, beloved idol) as she bids a tearful farewell to her son, appropriately named Sorrow, with pathos.

Other notable performances are given by baritone Jeff Mattsey as the sympathetic Consul Sharpless and mezzo-soprano, Zheng Cao who displays heartrending angst as Butterfly’s servant and faithful companion. A difficult role put in dependable hands.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Jonathan Darlington is note-perfect. Especially compelling is the dramatic melodic lines of the extended prelude to part two of the second act.

Madama Butterfly is an Italian opera with strong Japanese sensibilities. Set, Costume and video designer Japanese artist Jun Kaneko provides a stunning scenic architecture and dresses the cast in spectacularly colourful kimonos. His set, consisting of an angled, shallow-ramped walkway leading from right-rear to left-front stage and raised central platform with a sliding screen affords an excellent focal point.

In this production of Butterfly there is plenty for the opera neophyte as well as something new for the seasoned patron who might have felt that they had already seen this popular opera too many times.

© 2010 John Jane