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Commentary

Scenic rendering of Central City Opera’s <em>Three Decembers</em> (2010). Set Designer Cameron Anderson
03 May 2010

Central City: the little opera company that can

You don’t have to be Asian to sing Madama Butterfly, but if you’ve got a top soprano from that part of the world, it adds another dimension of reality to Puccini’s tear-drenched verismo.

Central City Opera — 2010 Festival

Above: Scenic rendering of Central City Opera’s Three Decembers (2010). Set Designer Cameron Anderson.

 

For the staging that opens the 78th season of Central City Opera on June 26, the company has not only Korea’s Yunah Lee in the title role, but also Japan’s Mika Shigematsu as her loyal servant and soul-sister, Suzuki.

“Musically it makes no difference; they‘re both wonderful, sensitive singers,” says CCO general director Pat Pearce, “but in staging it’s one less obstacle to get through.” Lee, who makes her CCO debut as Butterfly, is currently singing the role at New York City Opera, on the heels of appearances in the role with a number of German companies.

Success of the Puccini favorite is further guaranteed by the return of veteran soprano Catherine Malfitano to re-create the production with which she made her directorial debut in 2005. “It was our biggest hit in a decade,” says Pearce, praising Malfitano’s focus on the drama itself. “You don’t have to fight your way through a forest of cherry blossoms to get to the heart of this Butterfly. Catherine makes the music work as Puccini intended.”

Chad Shelton, CCO’s Alfredo in La Traviata and Ottavio in Don Giovanni in recent seasons, sings Pinkerton. “Chad has a vulnerability that will add depth to this role,” Pearce says.

In another coup for the company, British Baroque expert Matthew Halls, who tutored the CCO last summer in Rinaldo, its first Handel opera, will conduct Butterfly. “Matthew wanted to do it,” Pearce says. “And after he played through the score on the piano for me, I knew that he was the man for the job!”

On July 3 the season continues with the CCO’s first-ever staging of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, perhaps the greatest French operetta ever written. “It’s a wild, crazy piece and it‘s brilliant,” Pearce says. “And it’s a big work that will include all our apprentices in the cast.” Director Marc Astafan, the genius behind the 2009 Rinaldo, returns to put his stamp of genius on the staging.

Joanna Mongiardo, Baby Doe in the company’s 50th anniversary staging of the Douglas Moore classic, sings Euridice with Matthew Worth as god-of-all trades Jupiter. Joyce Campana, absent from Colorado for several summers, returns as Public Opinion. Martin Andre conducts the staging designed by Arnulfo Maldonado.

New to Colorado is the final work of the season, Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, set to open on July 10. The riveting story of the dysfunctional family of an aging Broadway star was written for Frederica von Stade, who premiered the work in Houston and has starred in it on several stages since then. “This will be the first totally new production of the work,” says Pearce, noting that it will star mezzo Joyce Castle, who celebrates the 40th anniversary of her career in opera this summer.

“Joyce is a great singing actress and this is a role she can really sink her teeth into,” says Pearce, stressing that the CCO is moving Heggie’s orchestra from the stage - where it was in Houston - into the pit. “Joyce will bring a harder edge to the score.” Heggie will be in Colorado for the premiere.

“It’s a great mix!” Pearce says of the trio of works chosen for this 78th CCO season. “There’s time-honored Butterfly and Three Decembers, which few in this region have seen. And in between there’s the delightful nonsense of Orpheus.”

Of course, at the CCO there’s still more: an apprentice production of Thomas Pasatieri’s Signor Deluso, derived from a drama by Moliere, Face on the Barroom Floor on site in the Teller House Bar, salon recitals, Opera a la Carte and family matinees. What’s amazing is that the CCO has come up with a new range of ticket prices that makes single performances available for as little as $32. A “super-saver” subscription for all three operas can be purchased for $90.

For information and tickets, call 303-292-6700 or visit www.centralcityopera.org.

Wes Blomster

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