The Vancouver Opera Company presented a very engaging production of a repertory classic – Giacomo Puccini’s tragic Madama Butterfly in Vancouver to a sell-out crowd on opening night.
The production was directed by Michael Cavanagh who developed convincing characters and was able to keep the well known story fresh and entertaining. The setting was charming and simple, conveying the well known cultural location and era without unnecessary clutter. Effective lighting and decorative screening supported the moods and key thematic elements of the opera. The plot developed quickly and the story was finished almost before the audience was ready. Under the direction of Leslie Dala the orchestra exhibited an energy that matched that of the best voices. The musicians also successfully delivered the required tenderness and pathos associated with several of the well known pieces.
Soprano Mihoko Kinoshita dominated the production as the vulnerable Cio-Cio-San. Her musical range and delivery enable her to convey the many moods of her character as she proceeded from shyness and uncertainty through hope and despair to steely resolve. She carried the audience with her throughout the performance. Her voice stood above the orchestra and seemed to draw strength from its flow.
Tenor Richard Troxell sang Pinkerton alongside Ms. Kinoshita’s Butterfly. His performance was somewhat disappointing in the first act. His high notes seemed weak and his delivery was less engaging than that of Ms. Kinoshita. There was a decided improvement in his delivery in the second act but there his role is much smaller.
By contrast baritone Gregory Dahl, who sang Sharpless, was in fine voice, clear and commanding as he cautioned or berated Pinkerton, sympathetic and sad in later encounters with Cio-Cio-San. He brought a strong presence to the performance and maintained a consistent delivery from beginning to end.
Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy was another outstanding singer as Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid and confidant. Her resonant voice and strong presence enhanced her role as Cio-Cio-San’s principal supporter.
Tenor Julius Ahn made his VO début as Goro, the marriage broker. In roles such as this, the focus often shifts from the singer’s voice to the theatrics of his character. Ahn achieved a good balance between the two and provided needed respites as Butterfly’s tragic situation unfolded.
Vancouver audiences are often criticized for their over eagerness to recognize performances with standing ovations. This was one instance where the offering was well deserved, right down to the booing of Pinkerton for his dastardly conduct.