Vancouver Opera
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Dates and Venue March 5, 10, 11 & 12 at 7:30pm, (matinees March 6 & 13 at 2pm) | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Director Michael Cavanagh Conductor Leslie Dala Chorus Director/Assistant Conductor Kinza Tyrrell Production Designer/Costume Designe Patrick Clark Lighting Designer Harry Frehner Wig Designer Stacey Butterworth Stage Manager Theresa Tsang

Cio-Cio-San Jee Hye Han Pinkerton Adam Luther Suzuki Allyson McHardy Sharpless Gregory Dahl Goro Julius Ahn Kate Pinkerton Eden Tremayne

Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™

Reviewer John Jane

Madama Butterfly is one of the best loved and Giacomo Puccini’s most successful and frequently performed operas. After all, it has arguably the most exquisitely tragic of heroines in Cio-Cio-San. It also has a self-entitled American, happy to exploit a local girl in an exotic land. It is essentially a Japanese story, despite being sung in Italian. Add to this, a central theme of witless betrayal played against naive expectations of marriage that is still relevant today.

Cio-Cio-San’s (Butterfly) simple, yet heartbreaking story 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 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 never end well and sure enough, Cio-Cio-San’s joy is short-lived. 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 possibly the least sympathetic of Puccini’s tenors and Newfoundlander Adam Luther plays the part unapologetically. Though lacking the swagger of some of his predecessors, his fine tenor voice and stage presence make him believable in the role. He perhaps wisely opts to emphasise Pinkerton’s boorish hedonism, rather than simply being seduced by Japan’s exoticism. This is no more evident than his agile interpretation of Amore o grillo at the beginning of act one. In this duet with Gregory Dahl (Sharpless) he is dismissive of the Consul’s caution about moral obligations.

Of course, what brings this bitter fairy tale to life is the emotional subtlety of Korean soprano Jee Hye Han’s beautiful voice. In her Vancouver Opera debut she gives an impassioned performance as Cio-Cio-San occupying the stage for almost the entire performance. Her singing is athletic and passionate and her graceful movements expose the nuances of both a winsome girl and a caring mother. She delivers both her love duet (Vogliatemi bene) at the end of first act, and her showpiece aria, Un bel dì, vedremo with pristine tone. But in her tearful farewell to her young son she expresses poignancy and pathos in Con onor muore chi non puo serbar vita con onore.

Among the supporting cast, Allyson McHardy as the unstintingly loyal companion Suzuki deserves kudos. Her dark mezzo voice conveys the shared suffering of Cio-Cio-San’s tragedy. Julius Ahn in the minor role of Goro the conniving marriage broker brings a needed lightness, almost stealing some of his scenes from major performers.

Patrick Clark’s set, on loan from the Pacific Opera Victoria and modified to suit the larger stage width is evocative of early twentieth century Japan. The set has, as its core focus Cio-Cio-San’s home complete with rear boardwalk and sliding shoji screens. Harry Frehner’s dramatic lighting is a more substantial production component than is usual for Vancouver Opera. Frehner uses subtle effects to distinguish the passage of evening, night and morning during Cio-Cio-San’s patient wait for Pinkerton’s arrival.

The orchestra under the baton of Maestro Leslie Dala plays with calenture and shines with affecting precision in the atmospheric Prelude to the first act, while the chorus, never better, delivered a superb vocal performance.

© 2016 John Jane