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Viktor Antipenko and Inna Los as Pinkerton and Butterfly [Photo by Richard Brusky]
18 Jun 2015

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Viktor Antipenko and Inna Los as Pinkerton and Butterfly

Photos by Richard Brusky

 

There, it was a resounding success. Nevertheless, the composer continued making revisions. He presented a third version for the Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1906, and more changes on two occasions in 1907. That fifth version from 1907 is the standard score generally heard today.

Giacomo Puccini saw David Belasco’s one-act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan in London during the summer of 1900. Adapted from John Luther Long's 1898 short story, Madame Butterfly was based on the recollections of his sister, Jennie Correll, who had been to Japan with her husband as Methodist missionaries. The play opened at the Herald Square Theatre in New York City before moving to London. Puccini’s librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, used Belasco’s play, Long's short story and Pierre Loti’s semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel, Madame Chrysanthème, as the basis for the opera’s text.

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia. There, it was a resounding success. Nevertheless, the composer continued making revisions. He presented a third version for the Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1906, and more changes on two occasions in 1907. That fifth version from 1907 is the standard score generally heard today.

On June 12, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented Madama Butterfly at the University of Nevada’s Judy Bayley Theater. Ian Mangum’s scenic design consisted of a small Japanese style house with flowering trees on either side. The Japanese ladies looked most attractive in Jennifer Van Buskirk’s flowered kimonos while the male characters wore period outfits appropriate to their nationalities.

_D3S4582.pngSuzuki, Stephanie Weiss; Pinkerton, Viktor Antipenko; Goro, Joseph Gaines; Butterfly, Inna Los; with chorus.

Following the tradition of Japanese theater, Director Henry Akina used graceful stagehands completely dressed in black with veiled faces to perform onstage tasks such as supplying lanterns for the love duet. Akina showed his audience both sides of the story, Butterfly’s desire to become an American wife and her life in the Japanese society that surrounded her. He enabled the singers to create memorable characters that will live on in the minds of onlookers long after the end of each performance.

General Director Luana DeVol chose large voiced singers and the performance was a golden age singfest. Russian tenor Viktor Antipenko had a bright burnished tone and the ability to connect with the audience’s emotions. In the first act he was a patient and devoted lover who never expected Butterfly to think of him as a long-term husband. Despite Sharpless’s warning, it was not until the last act that Pinkerton realized what he had done. His “Addio, fiorito asil di letizia e d'amor!” (“Farewell, flower-clad refuge of joy and love”) was heart rending as he realized that Cio Cio San’s face would always haunt his dreams.

Moldavian soprano Inna Los is a small woman with a huge voice, and that makes her a perfect choice for Madama Butterfly. Puccini accompanied Cio Cio San’s music with a relatively heavy orchestration, but the story tells us that she was only fifteen years old. At the end of Act I Pinkerton carried his young wife upstage toward their bedroom.

Los’s characterization matured over the space of the opera. A giddy young girl enjoying her wedding at the beginning, Butterfly later became a caring wife and mother who knew how to economize when times were difficult. She sang her aria “Un bel dì” (“One Fine Day”) with powerful tones and passionate involvement that brought tears to many eyes and won her a well deserved round of applause. At the end she had to realize that there was no longer a place for her in Pinkerton’s world. Like her father before her, Butterfly concluded that if she could no longer live with honor she would be strong enough to do what her culture demanded. When she tumbled out from behind the screen there was not a dry eye in the house.

As American Consul Sharpless, Daniel Sutin was a bureaucrat who paid more attention to form than he did to Butterfly’s emotional well-being. He sang with dark tones and his voice was a good contrast to that of Antipenko. Actually, the whole cast was well balanced. As Suzuki, Stephanie Weiss sang substantial harmonies with Los and their Flower Duet was enchanting.

Joseph Gaines was an amusing Matchmaker who added a bit of levity to a tragic story. The choice of Brian James Myer’s obviously shallow Yamadori as a suitor for Butterfly showed how little the men of the Nagasaki paid to serious matchmaking. Eugene (Trey) Richards was an impressive Bonze whose curse colored much of the rest of the opera. Valerie Sokolov Ore sang Kate Pinkerton’s few lines well and gave the audience the impression that she would be a good mother to little Dolore.

Megan Frank’s choristers sang their Humming Chorus with plangent harmonies presaging the tragedy to come. It is the conductor who holds the entire performance together and Gregory Buchalter’s attention to detail made this production memorable. His interpretation involved brisk pacing and increasing tension along with subtly nuanced expressivity as the gripping story drew ever nearer to its inevitable conclusion. Buchalter, the company’s artistic director, is a find for Opera Las Vegas. I wish they would present more than one opera a year with this fine conductor.

Maria Nockin


Cast and production information:

Madama Butterfly, Inna Los; Lt. Pinkerton, Viktor Antipenko; U.S. Consul Sharpless, Daniel Sutin; Suzuki, Stephanie Weiss; Goro, Joseph Gaines; Prince Yamadori, Brian James Myer; The Bonze, Eugene (Trey) Richards; Imperial Commissioner, Nathan Van Arsdale; Registrar, John Wennstrom; Yakuside, Kurt Sedlmeir; Butterfly’s Relatives: Gloria Grev, Patricia Newell, Claire Marie Reynolds; Kate Pinkerton, Valerie Sokolov Ore; Dolore, Noah Sirulnik; Conductor, Gregory Buchalter; Director, Henry Akina; Chorus Director, Megan Franke; Scenic Design, Ian Mangum; Costumes, Jennifer Van Buskirk; Lighting Design, Virginia Adams; Supertitles, Wendy Moss.

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