Failing to impress with its premiere in Milan's legendary La Scala in 1904, Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly went through a tightening and highly scrutinized revision and a mere three months later, the opera -- now one of the most beloved in the world -- connected with the discerning Italian audience. With a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, Madama Butterfly has become one of the four cornerstones in Puccini's arsenal alongside Tosca, Turandot, and La bohème.
This work has endured for a number of reasons that cover more than the span of the observable but not distracting cultural clash of the main protagonists, 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San and her American husband, Lt. B.F. Pinkerton -- a romantic ne'er-do-well who enters the union through and arrangement with a marriage broker. The Florida Grand Opera's 74th season opened this past November in Miami with a brilliant rendition of this classic and a powerhouse performance by soprano Kelly Kaduce in the title role.
This two-day stint at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts will please seasoned opera goers and newcomers alike.
Director Marc Astafan, who has made an indelible mark on the company's history with this flawless debut with the FGO managed to balance the imposing scenery and set design by David P. Gordon (for the Sarasota Opera) and the placement of his cast -- scenes populated by many the same lofty airiness of those performed by one. No easy feat given the ethereal nature of Cio-Cio's home as moody backdrop reflecting the inevitable dramatic turn of the narration.
As Pinkerton, Uruguayan engineer-turned-tenor Martin Nusspaumer portrays the charisma of the uniformed soldier hiding chicanery and ultimately petty selfish concerns. Nusspaumer's range floats comfortably below Kaduce's, who in her right sings with power and abandon while flawlessly nailing the performative constraints of interpreting a teenage girl forced into adulthood in the three years of the story's timeframe.
B-cast singer Vanessa Isiguen has had a tough act to follow, but has managed well. Her performance will benefit from the audience suspending disbelief between the singers and enjoying them for what they are individually capable of; comparisons here are not fair. (I should know, I've never been, nor do I ever want to experience the trauma of being a teenage girl.)
Other cast members of note like Daniel Bates as marriage broker Goro and Todd Thomas as the impotent by circumstance American Consul Sharpless (pun intended we guess) are solid in their roles. So is mezzo-soprano Caitlin McKechney in the role of Suzuki, Cio's maid and confidante, an opinionated fusion of Greek chorus, lifelong friend and Jiminy Cricket voice of reason who ultimately chisels away enough of Cio's star-crossed loving to render her in an honorable and much more desired Japanese manner.
If you've never been to an opera, this production of Madama Butterfly, with the muscularity and maturity of its cast is a great starter. This is world class opera. Conductor Ramón Tebar's pit is well-oiled and in complete synch with the performers. Even the costumes, brand new-looking to the naked eye, were made in 1981 by Allen Charles Klein for the FGO. With Così fan tutte coming in February, this season will be one for the books with the FGO set to continuously raise a bar they've already placed high.
Madama Butterfly at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 4 at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5 AVE, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost between $21 and $200. Call 954-462-0222 or visit browardcenter.org.
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