FLORIDA GRAND OPERA
MADAMA BUTTERFLY (4-25-09)

By Lawrence Budmen

Florida Grand Opera's stunningly beautiful new production of Puccini's perennial Madama Butterfly opened to widespread acclaim on April 25 at the Arsht Center's Ziff Opera House. This opera stands or falls on the soprano embodying Puccini's tragic heroine Cio-Cio-San. Chinese soprano Shu-Ying Li was a protagonist of the most exalted variety, delivering a performance of shattering musico-dramatic power. A gorgeous production and strong cast make this effort Florida Grand Opera's best Puccini offering in years.

Bernard Uzan's Opera de Montreal production abounds in memorable visual images - the heroine's Act I entrance against a stunning red backdrop, her night long vigil under the blooming cherry tree for the return of her faithless American husband Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, Pinkerton's American wife Kate's sudden realization of the heartbreak her husband has created. Each of these scenes were staged with the artistic refinement of a painting, pivotal moments frozen in time. Roberto Oswald's sets transcended picture book Orientalism while Anibal Lapiz's sumptuous, multi-hued costumes and Gordon W. Olson's exquisitely conceived lighting created stage pictures of spell binding beauty.

Madama Butterfly channels success or failure on the vocal and dramatic talents of the singer in the title role. Li's pure, expressively colored lyric soprano encompassed the entire panoply of emotions from child like wit and wonder to tragic resignation, pouring forth gloriously limpid flights of song with unforced ease up to the voice's highest reaches. Her intensely passionate rendering of the famous aria Un bel di and keenly projected, sorrowfully tragic death scene were the hallmarks of a great singing actress. Li seemed to live every moment and emotion of this seminal Puccini heroine.

Mexican born Arturo Chacon-Cruz played Pinkerton as a proverbial cad, projecting a lyric tenor with a reverberant baritonal lower register and ringing, fearless high notes. Chacon-Cruz's singing is reminiscent of the young Jose Carreras. Veteran baritone Jake Gardner exuded dignity and sumptuous vocalism in the thankless role of the American Consul Sharpless. Katherine Goeldner brought an unusually rich and sizable mezzo voice to Cio-Cio-San's companion Suzuki. Goeldner's commanding presence and deeply compassionate realization turned the part into a much larger theatrical presence. Supporting roles were cast from strength with Carlos Monzon's fierce Bonze and Sidney Outlaw's lyrical Prince Yamadori projecting strong cameo scenes. Kate Mangiameli's lovely soprano and dramatic power brought surprisingly impressive depth to the brief role of Kate Pinkerton.

Concluding his tenure as Florida Grand Opera's music director, Stewart Robertson came into his own with a crescendo of mounting dramatic power as the musical aura turned tragic in Acts II and III, eliciting excellent playing from the well disciplined orchestra. Robertson's encouragement of vibrant string rubato was entirely appropriate to this late romantic score (in the tradition of such conductors as Herbert von Karajan).

This Madama Butterfly is a visual and aural feast, an impressive revitalization of an operatic classic. After a generally strong series of productions, Florida Grand Opera has concluded the season in top form.

Florida Grand Opera presents Puccini's Madama Butterfly on April 29 and May 1, 5, 8 and 9, 2009 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. On May 14 and 16 the production moves to the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale. See www.fgo.org for information.

 


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