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New Orleans Opera's Madame Butterfly: A Review
On Friday, the New Orleans Opera Association kicked off its two-day run of Madame Butterfly, which will conclude the company’s impressive season.
Puccini’s tragic opera, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest of its form, provides the NOOA an opportunity to show off its ability to satisfy opera-goers. Bringing together the esteemed Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, impressive stage design, and immensely talented singers, the NOOA’s production of Madame Butterfly is an outstanding achievement.
Madame Butterfly is the tragic story of Cio-Cio San, a Japanese woman who abandons her religion and people to marry a U.S. Naval officer and give birth to his child. When he leaves her and returns three years later with an American wife, the truth of her betrayal leads to devastating consequences.
Soprano Maria Kanyova shines brightly in the title role, bringing to the stage a powerful voice capable of dramatic intensity and nuance; breathing new energy and life into the complex character of Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly). Kanyova’s vocal prowess was present throughout the evening, though demonstrated most compellingly while performing the aria “One Beautiful Day,” which left much of the audience in tears and was met with emphatic applause.
Appearing in the role of caddish B.F. Pinkerton is New Orleans native Bryan Hymel, whose forceful, stentorian tenor voice provides a masterful complement to Ms. Kanyova’s plaintive Cio-Cio San. Mr. Hymel’s portrayal of the vile Pinkerton was so convincing that it was difficult not to want to hiss at him when he came out for the curtain call. The audience, instead, jumped to their feet to deliver this talented rising star a standing ovation.
Equally noteworthy were the flawless performances of the devoted maid Suzuki, featuring mezzo-soprano Margaret Thompson, and United States consul Sharpless, performed by baritone Jake Gardner. Both brought forth forceful renditions of these characters who watch helplessly as the tragedy unfolds before them. An added treat to the show is the presence of Cio-Cio San’s son, played by Kanyova’s real-life daughter, Kathleen Kania.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Robert Lyall, provided a magnificent performance of Puccini’s riveting score. There is a reason why Madame Butterfly is one of the most famous and regularly performed operas in mainstream repertoire. The music is as elaborate as the action on stage, turning on a dime from light and sanguine to dark and echoing with despair. While the orchestra blended fluently with the singers on stage, a break in the action between the final two acts provided the LPO with the opportunity to display their abilities unaccompanied. Although the audience appeared to become a bit restless at this point in the opera, the performance added excellent dramatic tension to the image of Cio-Cio San eternally waiting for Pinkerton in vain.
Director Tomer Zvulun and NOOA’s production staff created a minimalist set that was well suited for this opera. Consisting of shoji, or Japanese sliding doors, and semitransparent backdrops, the set paralleled the action occurring on stage. Just as Pinkerton callously muscles into the delicate Madame Butterfly’s life, Pinkerton’s presence on stage also comes off as threatening, as though he could easily barge through the paper-thin walls.
Similarly impressive is the use of flowers in the second act. When Cio-Cio San and maid Suzuki perform the “Flower Duet,” the singers gleefully toss hundreds of flower petals across the stage. As the aria concludes, a downpour of petals above the curtain flood the stage, producing an indelible image filled with both felicity and foreboding.
Madame Butterfly continues with a final performance on Sunday, April 14 at 2:30 pm. Tickets start at $25. For ticket information, visit the New Orleans Opera website or call 504-529-3000.
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B. E. Mintz
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