Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
'Madama Butterfly" has it all: Bitter tragedy, broken hearts and death by sword. Love, beauty and betrayal.
Heather Johnson, a rising star in the opera world who came up through PORTopera’s Young Artists program, plays Cio-Cio’s protector and attendant, Suzuki.
Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Inna Los stars as Cio-Cio San in PORTopera’s “Madama Butterfly” on Wednesday and Friday in Portland. This is the third time she has sung the role, but for this production she says staying by the ocean in Maine has given her a new connection to the character.
Photo by Jeff Reeder/Courtesy Opera New Jersey
Most important, the Puccini opera is full of rich, lush music that leaves one ravished, said PORTopera artistic director Dona D. Vaughn.
"It has music that the opera lover can't resist, and music that will cause the first-time opera-goer to fall in love with opera forever," Vaughn said during a rehearsal break last week. "This music exudes passion. And passion is what attracts us to opera. If you are a passionate person, you will like opera. If you are not in touch with those feelings, you will not respond to opera. 'Madama Butterfly' transports us to an entirely higher plane."
PORTopera presents the century-old masterpiece Wednesday and Friday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, with Stephen Lord conducting. It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
This is a different schedule than in past years. Typically, PORTopera has presented performances on Thursday and Saturday. The shift to Wednesday and Friday is an experiment that appears to be working. Ticket sales are strong, with mostly balcony seats available both nights.
But, as Vaughn noted, it's hard to judge whether the strong box-office response is because of the new schedule or the popularity of "Madama Butterfly." It's among the most-produced operas in North America, and is many people's favorite.
This week's performances mark the second time PORTopera has presented it in its 18-year history.
Vaughn has assembled a strong cast for the production. All the leads have sung prominent roles at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Madama Butterfly" is set in early 20th-century Japan. It stars soprano Inna Los as Cio-Cio San (pronounced "chocho"), a young geisha known as Madama Butterfly who marries an American naval officer, spends her wedding night with him, and then waits in vain for his return as she raises their son.
Cio-Cio represents love and innocence, and sings like a butterfly.
This is the third time Los has sung the role. Every production is different, she said, and each outcome is influenced by the charisma and personalities of the cast and directors, as well as the geographic location of the production.
The PORTopera singers stay with host families during their time in Portland, and Los is residing in a house on a hill with an ocean view. In the opera, Cio-Cio watches for her husband's ship to return from a house on a hill.
"This helps me connect to the opera," she said in an e-mail. "You can see the ships pass by and really feel what the character would be going through sitting on the hill waiting for her husband to return."
Among other things, the challenge of the role is portraying a Japanese geisha while singing in Italian.
"It's quite loud and dramatic in certain points, so the singer must have certain volume and sound," she wrote. "The character for me, Butterfly, is so fragile I prefer to sing it very lyrically and soft. She's young and Japanese with this introvert culture, trying to keep the emotions inside.
"I would never want this little geisha to be interpreted, sung and played in a really brutal and really emancipated way. It's very beautiful and sensitive. That's the difficulty -- to keep the passion inside and still show it on stage for the audience."
Tenor Adam Diegel portrays the carefree Navy man, Lt. Pinkerton, who confides that he is marrying Cio-Cio for convenience and intends to leave her for a proper American wife. He follows through on that plan, and returns to Japan three years later with his American bride to claim his son.
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Tenor Adam Diegel, who has sung prominent roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, portrays Lt. Pinkerton.