• Opera Review: Beautiful tears with ‘Madame Butterfly’
    By Jim Lowe
     | October 07,2012
    Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo

    Mihoko Kinoshita, left, and Hyo Na Kim rehearse for the Opera Company of Middlebury production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”

    You have to wonder about opera lovers. They pay good money to have their hearts ripped to shreds — and they know it’s coming.

    Town Hall Theater was packed to the gills Friday for the Opera Company of Middlebury’s production of one of grand opera’s staples, “Madame Butterfly” — even though it was only partially staged — and the audience certainly wasn’t disappointed. The singing was first-rate, the orchestra its best yet and the theater was very convincing.

    Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” is the heartbreaking tale of Cio-Cio San, a 15-year-old geisha who enters a marriage of convenience with U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton for the duration of his stationing in Japan. Only Cio-Cio San — known as Butterfly — takes it for real.

    After a time of “wedded” bliss, Pinkerton leaves for America, promising to return. Eventually Sharpless, the American consul, attempts to tell Butterfly that Pinkerton isn’t coming back, but he cannot bring himself to do it – and she wouldn’t believe him anyway.

    Well, Pinkerton does return, but with an American wife. Things go downhill from there — but beautifully, as only Puccini can do.

    Puccini’s power was evident in this only partially staged performance. Directed by Douglas Anderson, the company’s artistic director, the staging set the action and a minimal set before the orchestra and chorus. In a testament to inspired direction and excellent actor-singers, thoughts about the lack of costumes and set were quickly lost in Butterfly’s story and Puccini’s genius.

    The production benefited from a veteran but young Butterfly. Soprano Mihoko Kinoshita sang with a richly beautiful lyrical voice and plenty of passion. At times, more tenderness might have been effective, but there was plenty when she talked of her child and, at the end, about her “husband” and her dignity. It was a deeply affecting performance.

    Daniel Snyder, though not as smooth a singer, was a fine choice for Pinkerton, a truly masculine tenor with his on share of passion. Mezzo-soprano Hyo Na Kim presented an unusually dimensional Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid-companion, in part because of her rich expressive voice delivered beautifully.

    Sharpless, always one of the most sympathetic characters in the opera, was given a sensitive and beautifully and emotionally powerful performance by Ricardo Rivera. Vermonter Eric Kronke used his nearly stentorian bass to give Prince Yamadori presence and even sympathy.

    Scott Ingham gave the marriage broker Goro wit as well as some fine singing. Nathanial McVeigh was charming as the son.

    Music Director Emmanuel Plasson led a sensitive, nuanced and dramatically effective performance. The orchestra, though not always refined, delivered the work’s deep emotional power. They were augmented by the warm sound of the Middlebury College Choir, directed by Jeffrey Buettner.

    Anderson’s intention to rehabilitate Pinkerton’s reputation was only partially successful. The director had Goro, before the opera began, repeat part of the story the it was based upon, where it is pointed out that, at that time, the U.S. Navy procured “wives” for their officers while they were stationed in Japan.

    Still, Pinkerton was a heel for not facing Butterfly himself, leaving it to Sharpless and his new wife. Anderson’s final theatrical touch, though, lent a romantic lift to the dark finale.

    What a beautiful way to have your heart ripped to shreds?!

    Opera Company of Middlebury

    Opera Company of Middlebury presents its final performance of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” in concert, semi-staged with orchestra, at 2 p.m. today at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.

    Tickets are $40 and $45; call 382-9222, or go online to www.townhalltheater.org.

    Director Douglas Anderson will talk about the performance one hour prior to curtain at Memorial Baptist Church on South Pleasant Street, opposite the Town Hall Theater.

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