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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 11, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 32
A sublime Madame Butterfly at Seattle Opera
Arts & Entertainment
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A sublime Madame Butterfly at Seattle Opera

by Alice Bloch - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE OPERA
MADAME BUTTERFLY
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
August 6 (First Sunday matinee)
(Same cast on August 12, 16 & 19)


When I learned that the first offering of Seattle Opera's 2017-18 season would be Puccini's Madame Butterfly, I sighed inwardly, for this opera is a true warhorse, performed widely and guaranteed to draw large audiences. Who needs another Butterfly, I wondered. As it turns out, I definitely needed this particular Butterfly! This brilliant production is by far the most satisfying - esthetically, emotionally, intellectually, and politically - I have ever attended.

Director Kate Cherry treats the principal character of Cio-Cio-San with complete respect and goes to great lengths to ameliorate the problematic ignorance of Puccini and his librettists about Japanese culture. (Sharon Cumberland's review of the Opening Night performance, also appearing in this week's paper, goes into more detail.) Conversely, the production makes no attempt to airbrush the despicable character of Lieutenant Pinkerton; his arrogance, cruelty, and cowardice stand out in stark relief, making him a personification of late nineteenth-century Western imperialism.

In her U.S. debut, soprano Yasko Sato gave a superb performance as Cio-Cio-San. She sang sublimely and acted to perfection, inhabiting this unusually challenging role to an extent I've never witnessed before. Her gestures and movements, the placement of her hands and feet, her style of expressing emotion, all had a rare authenticity that made her performance extraordinarily moving.

As Pinkerton, tenor Dominick Chenes got off to a rough start, with sharp notes and shrill tones in the first half of Act 1, but he improved, and his voice blended well with Sato's during the love duet at the end of that act.

Mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier was excellent as Cio-Cio-San's loyal servant Suzuki, and baritone Weston Hurt, a Seattle Opera favorite, sang and acted with authority and subtlety. As Goro the matchmaker, tenor Rodell Rosel, who made a memorable company debut last season in The Magic Flute, once again injected vitality into a relatively small role.

Carlo Montanaro conducted expertly, with exquisite attention to dramatic pacing and to the lush textures of Puccini's score. The orchestra has never sounded better, nor has the chorus.

Kudos to production designer Christina Smith and lighting designer Matt Scott for an exceptionally beautiful and effective visual presentation of the opera. Originally designed for New Zealand Opera under the directorship of Aidan Lang (now general director of Seattle Opera), Smith's set and costumes are gorgeous and appropriate. The landscape backdrop is a lovely two-dimensional painting, as would be typical in traditional Japanese theater. The house, shaped like a lantern and defined by semi-transparent sliding screens, appears at times open and inviting, at other times closed and confining. During the love duet, a hundred or so lanterns are lowered into the darkness, with sparkly stars falling all around them; the effect is pure magic. Scott's lighting transforms the mood and ratchets up the dramatic tension until at the tragic end of the opera, the entire stage is flooded with red light.

This production is likely to sell out, so try to get a ticket immediately, and prepare yourself for a musical and theatrical experience you'll never forget. This production demands of the opera-goer an open heart, an engaged mind, and a lot of tissues.

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