J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Puccini’s Madama Butterly

June 1, 2019

Hudson Opera Theatre

Monroe

La Donna Innamorata

      “What’s in a name?” Begin with “Giacomo Puccini.” A name that appears repeatedly in various operatic contexts. For this sensitive review, the venue is the Presbyterian Church of Historic Monroe, where Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was graciouslyand lusciously delivered through the supreme and immeasurable efforts of the Hudson Opera Theatre. This portion of the Valley is fortunate to know the talents of the Opera Theatre and its sublime performances under the direction of Maestro Ron De Fesi.

Madama Butterfly is one of the most cherished and regularly performed pieces of Italian Opera. It is frequently considered to rest comfortably in the grand genre known as “Italian Verismo.” So impressive and widespread is this musical masterpiece of Puccini, this writer must confess: during his critically important years of early childhood, Madama Butterfly was more than a frequent regular on the home Victrola. It penetrated these inexperienced ears and triggered faulty logic. Thinking, “Holy Mary!” Our National Anthem was extracted from an Italian opera. Wow! … The error was quickly corrected, with the sin of “musical plagiarism” quickly transferred to the revered Giacomo Puccini.

Of greater importance when considering this masterpiece, is the ability of Hudson Opera Company to deliver a fantastic and sweeping love story, the saga of an exotic, yet frail Japanese Gisha, Cio-Cio-San and a swaggering, blowhard American seaman. Justin Scott Randolph, an admired veteran of the Hudson Opera, delivers Lieutenant Pinkerton with vigor and passion.

Understanding the critical and what may appear to be unusual circumstances of this opera’s tale is the first step in savoring its rich commentary. In so far as credibility is a concern, the presence of an American warships in Nagasaki Harbor is historically a likely event (see Commodore Perry). Consider too, the nuptial relationship between Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San. To acknowledge their arrangement is to recognize the historical and social mores of the time. If not abundantly common, the arrangement was acceptable and legally in place.  

But, oh to believe, as intensely as Cio-Cio-San! And to be as confident as Cio-Cio-San. This self-confidence and certainty are bought vividly to the Monroe stage by, a mature and rich soprano, Leilah Dione Ezra, who engages Pinkerton with an exotic allure intended to capture his heart. He is, of course, a young arrogant naval officer, who inserts a stinging touch of dramatic irony into the narrative, by announcing early in Act I his intension to marry an American woman, “una vera sposa americana.

With house guests now vacated, the wedding ceremony over, the couple remain alone on their wedding night, with the exception of Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s faithful maid, brought to stage by a genuine gem in this opera’s cast, Ema Mitrovic. As the house falls silent, the momentum builds and continues through a convincing love duet, overflowing with exotic melodies and themes. She begs this tall, strong American seaman to “Vogliatemi bene, un bene piccolino, un bene da bambino…” love me gently, as though I were a child.   Their extended love scene is powerful and convincing as the curtain falls on Act I.

This opera cannot exist without passion, beauty, and a few tears, those petite, emotional gems that so easily collect and fall away. The process is accelerated as Cio-Cio-San wantingly displays her unlimited faith in her American seaman. She will remain, unflinchingly faithful to the end, waiting for the USS Lincoln to return to the harbor of Nagasaki. So much here is expressed through what may be the most famous aria of Italian operas: “Un bel di vedremo…” One fine day we shall see … a puff of smoke in the harbor as his ship drops anchor!).

In what may be the most haunting and memorable piece of Puccini’s genius is found at the conclusion of Act II. As the sun sets over the couple’s diminutive love nest, Cio-Cio-San continues to believe. She and her child begin an all-night vigil. The child sleeps. She remains on watch, erect, alert Con onor. To represent the passing of the night, the Hudson Opera Chorus delivers Puccini’s immortal Humming Chorus, effectively creating a pensive, melancholy atmosphere, designed to represent the passing of night and the dawn of a new day. Unfortunate here, is the apparent lack of a dimmer mechanism for the house lights, to accompany the excellent delivery of the Opera Chorus and the passing of night.

Joseph Gansert (Sharpless) was a most entertaining secondary principal. Kevin Couremanche, Jeffery Goble, Andrew Martens, Natassia Velez, Fara Ramos, Yuri Nam Wasserman, Omrilynn Williams, Amy Phillips, Gary Allen and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Hudson Opera Theatre all did well, as has become the custom.

Giacomo Puccini’s iconic Madama Butterfly is a classic and fitting way to conclude an impeccable season, especially, when the performance is of the quality delivered last Sunday at the Monroe Presbyterian Church. Also, to be noted, this 2018 – 2019 season marks the 42nd year of the company’s existence, and marks the 42nd year of the company’s reputation for sterling performances

 

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