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Madama Butterfly

The last time that Central City Opera performed this classic piece, acclaimed soprano Catherine Malfitano made her directorial debut with an electrifying and politically pointed production that underscored the universality of Madame Butterfly and its relevancy in our present world. Remarkably, in the present production at the same charming venue, Malfitano is able to up the stakes. She does this by keeping the staging simple and close, which, in the intimate setting of the opera house, makes for an intensely personal experience.

(Left to right) Grant Youngblood as Sharpless and Chad Shelton as Pinkerton
(L to R): Grant Youngblood
as Sharpless
and Chad Shelton
as Pinkerton
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
While Malfitano's motivation may be a simple matter of amplifying the drama of the characters themselves as well as Puccini's comment on the effects of the U.S. military on Japanese culture in the late 19th century, larger implications overshadow the work: As "endless war" continues and the public is mostly either cowered or convinced of its powerlessness, artists are forced to find more powerful metaphors for the growing crimes committed in the name of governments wholly subjugated to the interests of financiers, who control the world's currencies and who profit through war and the manipulated expansion and contraction of the money supply.

Or, as the libretto says, "All over the world, the vagabond Yankee takes profit and pleasure ... America forever."

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Chad Shelton as Pinkerton
Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San
and Chad Shelton as Pinkerton
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
So, as we watch Yunah Lee's translucent performance as Cio Cio San, with her deceased father's spirit looming on one side, and mix of local and foreign players on the other, the metaphors loom large. Lee's soprano effortlessly fills the hall with some of the most plaintive and heartbreaking arias in the canon. In this stellar performance, it is our own innocence and idealism that is shattered.

(Left to right): Yunah Lee Cio-Cio-San, Tia Amaral-Elkins as Dolore, and Mika Shigematsu as Suzuki
(L to R): Yunah Lee Cio-Cio-San,
Tia Amaral-Elkins as Dolore,
and Mika Shigematsu as Suzuki
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Chad Shelton does yeoman's work as Lt. Benjamin F. Pinkerton, illuminating the American naval officer's incremental changes from crass to enthralled to insensitive to remorseful. His warm tenor and articulate, deliciously flavored Italian are a delight. Although Madama Butterfly is foremost Cio Cio San's tragedy, Shelton's performance opens our eyes to Pinkerton's tragedy as well. He is, as in the Greek style, forced to live with his own flaws.

The supporting work is also excellent, including Mika Shigematsu's (mezzo-soprano) and Grant Youngblood's (baritone) stirring performances as Suzuki and Sharpless, compounding the vocal and emotional depth of our experience.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San
Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Matthew Halls and the Festival Orchestra deliver a rich rendition of Puccini's exquisite score.

Central City Opera's exquisite production of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly runs through August 7th, in repertory with Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and Jake Heggie's Three Decembers. 303-292-6700 or centralcityopera.org.

Bob Bows

 

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