Opera redux Madame But­ter­fly

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

Santa Fe Opera opened its 54th sea­son with a laud­able new pro­duc­tion of Gi­a­como Puc­cini’s Madame But­ter­fly, the ever-pop­u­lar tear­jerker about the Ja­panese maiden who mar­ries, and is aban­doned by, an Amer­i­can lieu­tenant in turn-of-the-20th-cen­tury Na­gasaki. So­prano Kelly Ka­duce, as Cio-Cio-San (the “Madame But­ter­fly” of the ti­tle), stood at the head of the cast in ev­ery way. Her sing­ing, never less than im­pres­sive, as­sumed mount­ing in­ten­sity as the evening un­furled. Still in the dawn of her ca­reer, she boasts a thor­oughly re­al­ized, un­clut­tered tech­nique, and her per­for­mance was in­fused with mu­si­cal flow and emo­tive flex­i­bil­ity.

Bran­don Jo­vanovich, as Lt. Pinkerton, pos­sesses a firmly de­vel­oped tenor voice, though its ex­pres­sive range went largely un­tapped. He got the job done with­out wor­ry­ing about id­iomatic Ital­ian style. El­iz­a­beth DeShong made a firm im­pres­sion as Suzuki, But­ter­fly’s no-non­sense maid, her well-cul­ti­vated mezzo-so­prano voice sear­ing through the thick or­ches­tra.

James West­man was mis­cast as Sharp­less, at least in this pro­duc­tion. His voice, small and swal­lowed, was out of scale to the rest of the singers, and the un­bri­dled or­ches­tra of­ten ren­dered him in­audi­ble. He was di­rected to play the part as bum­bling, even clown­ish. Per­haps this portrayal can be rethought as the pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues. While he’s at it, di­rec­tor Lee Blakeley, who has done so much right, might fine-tune Ka­duce’s de­pic­tion of Cio-Cio-San in Act 2. As­pir­ing to Amer­i­can ways and dress­ing in Amer­i­can garb, her for­mer self evap­o­rates to an un­likely de­gree: But­ter­fly be­comes Nel­lie For­bush.

The tenor Keith Jame­son is a fa­mil­iar pres­ence in tenor char­ac­ter roles at the com­pany, and his vivid portrayal of the smarmy mar­riage bro­ker Goro dis­played his usual high stan­dards. Bass Harold Wil­son was blus­tery as the Bonze, and mezzo-so­prano Emily Lorini was el­e­gant as Kate Pinkerton.

The beau­ti­ful set (by Jean-Marc Puis­sant) was clev­erly crafted to pro­vide scenic va­ri­ety within the limited con­fines of the stage’s me­chan­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties. In­te­rior spa­ces were de­fined by a cube that was re­con­fig­ured by repo­si­tion­ing sho­jis, and the en­tire ap­pa­ra­tus could move about the stage and ro­tate 360 de­grees. Just be­cause it could ro­tate doesn’t mean that it needed to spin as much as it did: part of the Act 1 love duet, for ex­am­ple, was up­staged by the slowly re­volv­ing house. Still, the views were lovely, en­hanced by a flow­er­ing cherry tree out­side and sim­ple fur­nish­ings within, and the light­ing (by Rick Fisher) height­ened the am­bi­ent drama.

Cos­tumes (de­signed by Brigitte Reif­f­en­stuel) were uni­formly at­trac­tive in this pe­riod pro­duc­tion, with the ki­monos’ hum­ble earth tones re­mind­ing us that But­ter­fly’s fam­ily has fallen onto hard times — which is why she has mar­ried Pinkerton in the first place. All el­e­ments con­spired to cre­ate the evening’s most stun­ning vis­ual moment: But­ter­fly’s en­trance in a pro­ces­sion of Ja­panese women with para­sols pass­ing be­fore the set­ting sun as they ar­rive at the house.

Con­duc­tor Antony Walker fol­lowed the score with­out sug­gest­ing any un­usual take on Puc­cini’s mu­sic and (from the per­spec­tive of my seat) of­ten over-bal­anc­ing the singers. Mu­si­cal stan­dards on­stage were gen­er­ally high. Ev­ery­body sang in tune — far from a given in the opera world — and the cast re­mained un­fazed even in the face of the petu­lant weather, which at the opera’s con­clu­sion es­ca­lated into a tem­pest. It was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing start to a promis­ing sea­son.

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