Cinci Opera opens season with Madame Butterfly
Madame Butterfly, Puccini’s masterpiece, never wears out its welcome. It is a drama whose characters vibrate with life. Their tragedy is elevated from the personal to the universal.
The plight of Cio-Cio-San is to be undone by her faithful cross-cultural love for American Naval Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton. He is preordained. to be a faithless lover. It is the enigma, the web into which Butterfly is trapped, which makes the work great sympathetic literature.
The opera, into which Puccini poured several years of passionate effort, brings the characters to life in words, action and in every bar of the score. The music, from the first notes, elevates and illustrates the actions to perfection.
Artistic Director Evans Mirageas and his staff chose “Butterfly” to open the Cincinnati Opera season.
Collaborating with conductor Eduardo Müller and stage director Mark Lamos, the production allowed the music to be the central force of the opera.
The stage held a set of stairs and sliding Japanese panels. It was sparse in contrast to the rich visuals of Dayton Opera’s remarkable creation by artist Jun Kaneko in 2006.
Great opera is a totality. While an elaborate and artistic set may add to the performance effect, a more sparse setting does not necessarily detract. The stairs and the panels, lit dramatically, were used effectively in every scene. Symbolic artifacts, ships, the sun in changing colors, voluptuous expanses of silken cloth all enriched the performance.
The first act is the introduction of the characters. The personae of Frank Lopardo’s Pinkerton, the sympathetic US consul Sharpless, sung by physically imposing John Hancock, Mika Shigematsu’s loving devotion as the servant Suzuki and the wily marriage broker Goro who was given life by versatile Steven Cole, were well developed.
The opening scene moved slowly with problems in orchestral balance. There was some difficulty in hearing the vocal lines. The incredible tenor aria, “Dovunque al mondo” did not create an applause break.
It was the arrival of the bridal party and Butterfly that crystallized the action. The woman’s chorus effectively entered the scene, leading the blushing bride. The chemistry between Pinkerton and Butterfly was obvious. A charming “almost” kiss intensified the feeling on stage and in the audience.
In many productions of the opera, the impact of Butterfly’s act of loving faith in going to the US consulate to convert to Christianity is muted. This staging made the momentous situation clear. It emphasized the drama of the denouncement of Butterfly by the Bonze, her uncle, and thence by her family and friends.
The plight of Butterfly was immutable. She gave up everything in exchange for the eternal love and marriage with Pinkerton. The dramatic crisis upon which this successful opera turns is the enveloping love scene. “Love me” is Butterfly’s only plea, repeated again and again.
Pinkerton must be completely sincere in his loving words. However, we know from his earlier pronouncements, this marriage is a rental which can be cancelled on a month’s notice.
As Cio-Cio-San, Chinese soprano Shu-Ying Li made her character vibrate musically and in every nuance of her actions. At last, alone, they kiss. This seals Butterfly, as if pinned to a board, for all time.
Act II was the complete domain of Shu-Ying. Now abandoned, mother of a son, with not a word from her love, her faith is set in stone against the unassailable facts of her devastation.
The aria, “Un bel di vedremo” is so familiar as a recital piece that we fail to realize that it is one of the great moments in dramatic literature. Hamlet has one of them; Tosca, another. Sculpted by the combination of strength, beauty and innocence, Shu-Ying fixed this great aria gloriously in time.
Even the prolonged applause and shouts from the audience did not diminish the mood. We were in the presence of a great operatic performance. From that moment on, the opera took wings.
There are no surprises for the audience. The overture for the final act tells all in clear musical phrases. Butterfly’s son, Sorrow, was played marvelously by handsome 6 year old Tyler Backer. He provided much needed relief from the impending doom as he toyed lovingly with the model of his father’s ship, romped with an American flag, delighted in falling flower blossoms. He was the understandable love object of Butterfly and the justifiable cause of her sacrifice and suicide.
Frank Lopardo expressed real grief in his final aria. His realization of what he had missed, what could have been, was still couched in his own personal terms. He cried how wretched he was, how devastated he felt. Perhaps the audience should extend a modicum of sympathy for Kate, his American wife thrust upon the scene. Now she has to live with him.
Next comes the saga of another tragic woman and her downfall. Donizetti’s great opera Lucia di Lammermoor is transposed into the French version, Lucie de Lammermoor. No matter what language, she dies in the end.
Personally, I’m dying to see and hear this different version of a great opera. I only have to wait until June 26 or 28 to hear it. Join me; call 513-241-2742 for tickets. We can begin practicing sobbing with a Gallic accent.
Artist solo exhibition at DVAC June 17 - July 3
The Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC) will host Looking Both Ways: David Leach, a solo exhibition of drawings, paintings and prints, from June 17 to July 3. An Oakwood resident, Leach will share new pieces that have not yet been exhibited, with select works from the past 25 years of his impressive career as an artist.
Leach is an Emeritus Professor at Wright State University, where he taught art – primarily printmaking and drawing – for 30 years. His work is included in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the Dayton Art Institute and the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
The DVAC gallery, at 118 N. Jefferson St., in downtown Dayton, is free and open to the public six days a week, from11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. For more information visit the Web site at www.daytonvisualarts.org or call (937) 224-3822.
OHS Band returns from sister city
In honor of Oakwood’s Centennial Celebration, the Oakwood High School Band traveled to Oakwood’s sister city, Outremont, near Montreal in Quebec. Early in the morning on Monday, June 16, sleepy parents gathered to greet the two motor coaches, marking the end of the band’s week-long trip to Canada.
The band performed at two annual events in Outremont. On Friday, June 13, the band played a concert at the Outremont Lobster Dinner, a benefit for the committee for sister cities that attracts over 600 people including dignitaries and leaders of local political parties. On Saturday, the band performed at the Kermesse Soleil 2008, a festival that celebrates the community’s volunteers. The fifty-one student musicians on the trip performed from their concert repertoire and marching band favorites at the two performances in Outremont. In addition, the band played at Complexe Desjardins in Montreal and participated in a workshop led by Alain Cazes, who leads the Wind Symphony at McGill University in Montreal.
“Performing for such an appreciative audience in our sister city of Outremont was a once-in-a-lifetime enriching experience for our students,” said Debbie Hershey, one of the band parents who helped organize the trip, “To be so generously welcomed into the French culture and community will never be forgotten.”
In addition to performances in Outremont, the trip included a trip on the historic Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, a tour of historic Quebec City, sightseeing in Montreal, and the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
The Oakwood Sister Cities Organization assisted the students in paying for their trip to Canada. Proceeds from the band’s annual fruit sale also reduced the cost of the trip for each student.
Bienvenue chers musiciens!