By Lawrence Budmen 

Giacomo Puccini masterfully combined the varied musical strands of Italianate lyricism, Orientalism, modernism, and Impressionism in his 1904 masterpiece Madama Butterfly. (The composer would mix this brew even more adventurously in Turandot.) The opening of the Palm Beach Opera’s production of this searing operatic clash of cultures on Friday at the Kravis Center proved an evocative evening of lyric theater.

Julie Makerov replaced Carla Maria Izzo in the pivotal role of Cio-Cio-San. Except for some shrillness in her upper register during her entrance aria Spira sul mare, Makerov offered a cascade of lustrous vocalism. The soprano’ s dark timbre brought a distinctive glow to the tragic heroine’s dramatic vocal flights. 

She easily encompassed Puccini’s demanding musical gamut from gorgeous legato lines to the astringent declamation of the heroine’s death scene. Her rendition of Un bel di vedremo was a soaring affirmation of hope. Makerov’s poignant, moving portrait of the geisha and charismatic stage presence portend operatic stardom. 

James Valenti brought a bright, robust tenor voice to the role of Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, surely the most despicable leading male in the operatic canon. He conveyed the officer’s flighty recklessness with aplomb. His farewell aria rang with honeyed fervor. 

Robert Gardner was a world weary American Consul Sharpless with a mellifluous lyric baritone that recalled Robert Merrill in beauty of sound and ease of production. 

Mika Shigematsu revealed a strongly projected mezzo-soprano in her unusually vibrant characterization of Suzuki, the heroine’s faithful servant. Brian Mulligan offered dark baritonal velvet in his brief cameo as Prince Yamadori. 

As the conniving marriage broker Goro, Eduardo Aladren unfurled a stylish lyric tenor rather than the lightweight character voices usually heard in this role. Perry L. Brown commanded the stage with his powerful bass and frightening demeanor as The Bonze. Ceci Grasso Dadismann brought a dusky mezzo and considerable glamour to the thankless role of Kate Pinkerton. 

Minoru Togawa’s fluid, stylized production moved the tragedy forward with artful inevitability. Picture book sets by Atillio Collonello were enchanting in lighting designer Donald Thomas’ restrained cornucopia of soft colors. The wedding scene in Act I was particularly eye filling. A large staircase that dominated the stage was effectively utilized for seamless transitions. 

Conductor Bruno Aprea has turned the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra into a first rate ensemble. The group’s deep sonority and transparency enlivened Puccini’s glittering instrumental palette. Aprea mined the score’ s fiery passion and song filled strophes with deft precision. The composer’s symphonic patina was richly served.  

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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