Everything that could go right in this season’s opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini did. The only thing not to like about Puccini’s gorgeous yet tragic opera Madama Butterfly is the way it ends. That aside, The San Diego Opera Company with Canadian Yves Abel conducting (to perfection) the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and Garnett Bruce directing, San Diego audiences have bragging rights.
Two years ago odds had it that the San Diego Opera Company was a thing of the past. When former Artistic Director Ian Campbell walked away from the company his high rollers (Dow Divas) left as well. While everyone was wringing their hands Carol Lazier stepped up to the plate and loaned the company one million dollars. Now with new management under the leadership of David Bennett and at fifty-three years and holding new life has been infused into an arts institution that defines a city.
The Metropolitan Opera first produced Madama Butterfly in 1907 and starred Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio San and Enrico Caruso played Pinkerton her American suitor, soon to be fly-by-night husband. The opera is based on a short story by John Luther Long which in turn was based partially on stories told by Long’s sister, and partially on the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthéme which was possibly based on a true story. Puccini’s three act opera is so popular, the music so exquisite, the story so tragic yet enticing that it is one of the more popular opera’s to don any company’s repertoire. The San Diego Opera has staged this timeless opera nine times.
SDO’s Butterfly soars. The winning combination of American soprano Latonia Moore as Cio-Cio San and American mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges her servant, protector and confidant Suzuki, Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincăi, making his American debut as Pinkerton, and American baritone Anthony Charles Evans as Sharpless the American consul, bass-baritone Scott Sikon as Cio-Cio San’s uncle is perfect, this production is by far the most compressive, the most evenly staged and the most beautifully sung especially by all of the above luminaries.
Nine is the magic number for this company. That’s how many times in its history that it has staged. From my memory I can count at least five others that I have seen and hands down, Latinia Moore gives more authenticity to the role that any of the past five sopranos seen.
When we first meet her in the American consul’s office ready to meet her prospective husband she’s as giddy as a fifteen -year old schoolgirl in love with love at the prospect of marrying an American sailor who will take her out of the world of the geisha and make an honest woman of her. Little does she know, his ulterior motives; ‘a girl in every port’. ‘He declares that some day he will take a real American wife.
Promising that he will return, she waits three years for his ship The Abraham Lincoln to return to Nagasaki harbor with him aboard for them to settle down as husband and wife. (Un Bel Di… is a tear- jerker, absolutely gorgeous). In the meantime she goes about her every day tasks mostly praying to Pinkerton’s God and wondering what’s taking so long for her prayers to be answered.
She’s running out of money and refuses to marry the wealthy Prince Yamadori (a strong Bernardo Bermudez). By the time she realizes Pinkerton will not be coming back to her she brings out her son, a blond haired blue -eyed youngster named ‘Trouble’ and introduces him to Sharpless who has the nasty job of telling Butterfly that Pinkerton is married to another.
In the three plus hours Moore has matured from a gushing schoolgirl to a mature woman with responsibilities and tough decisions to make. Throughout, her sumptuous voice rings like a bell. Her movements for a large woman never hamper and every situation is staged beautifully. Her maturity comes in her actions and the way she comports herself in difficult times. While never taking anything away from her strong voice, there is softness about her thinking; a resignation of what the future will hold for her and her son. She waits throughout the night while a superb (Coro a bocca chiusa) ‘Humming Chorus’ can be heard in the distance.
Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincăi started off a little timid during his first aria but gathered momentum as the negotiations of the marriage moved along and by the rime he returned to sing his last duets with Butterfly his too was at the top of his game.
Mezzo soprano J’nai Bridges is a perfect match with Moore especially when the two sing Scuoti quella fonda di ciliegio (The Flower Duet). Even Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless the Americn consul comes across as sympathetic toward Butterfly and put out with Pinkerton. He knows what Butterfly will have to do to maintain her dignity.
Robert Oswald’s set is highlighted by a series of sliding screens, Cherry trees and flower petals adorn the stage. Anibal Lapiz costumes are simple but effective especially the geisha’s red kimonos with matching parasols, all rented from Opéra de Montréal and brand new to San Diego audiences. Last but not least, Chris Rynne’s effective and subtle lighting design is perfect as Butterfly waits the night for the Abraham Lincoln to land.
Madama Butterfly is the second Puccini opera of the season to be mounted at the Civic and it is tops on the ‘must see list’ of things to do this weekend.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: April, 22nd, 24th.
Organization: San Diego Opera
Production Type: Opera
Where: Downtown San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: Starts at $35.00
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre