When I drove up to the Madrid Theatre on Saturday night, June 7, to see Center Stage Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, people were milling around outside before the performance, filling the sidewalk and spilling over onto the street. The show was sold out, with assigned seating for all tickets, allowing patrons to benefit from an early commitment to attend and making the seating process trouble-free.
Prior to curtain, Director Dylan Thomas greeted the audience and introduced Sophia Yamamoto, the Movement Coach for both casts, who then performed a traditional Japanese dance with fans. What a delight! An unexpected bonus, it helped the packed house relax and get into the spirit of the opera while waiting for the last patrons to be seated. Lisa and Dave Yamamoto also acted as Japanese consultants for the production.
Matthew Miles, a fine lyric tenor with great vocal flexibility and range, opened the show in the role of Pinkerton with conviction and style. His voice was strong and clear, with a beautiful line in the arching phrases and ringing high notes. Babatunde Akinboboye shone in the role of Sharpless, the sympathetic U.S. Consul who was powerless to protect either Pinkerton or Butterfly from their ignorance of each other. His deep, commanding baritone communicated authority and beautiful musicianship.
Adrien Roberts filled the role of Butterfly, singing with a gorgeous resonance and soaring top notes as she portrayed the full range of her character’s emotions, from those of a naïve young bride to a broken, desperate, abandoned mother, never compromising the quality of her vocal tone. An excellent performance.
Jamie McDonald supported her with a mellifluous mezzo as Suzuki, especially lovely in the trio with Pinkerton and Sharpless. Armando Castillo brought his clear, sonorous tenor to the role of Goro, capturing the spirit of the devious and manipulative marriage broker in his attitude and gestures. Carl King was bold and unstoppable as Uncle Bonzo, disrupting the wedding party with accusations that Butterfly had dishonored her family by leaving their traditions behind.
Scott Rambo (Yamadori), Bryan Dahl (the Imperial Commissioner), Holly Jamison (Kate Pinkerton) and Franco Rios Castro (Yakuside) added to the drama with excellent singing and solid dramatic performances, and young Alex Woolston played his first operatic role… as a perfect, tow-headed little package of “Trouble”!
A chamber orchestra provided accompaniment for the opera, under the direction of Brian Onderdonk. The ensemble included strings, woodwinds, harp and percussion, transmitting all the subtlety of Puccini’s score without ever masking the singers. Because of the instrumentalists’ position below the front of the stage, the first three rows of the theatre seating were blocked off from use by patrons to ensure that everyone had a clear view of the drama.
Kudos to Danielle Langford for costumes, which appeared authentic throughout, combining traditional Japanese kimonos and 1950’s-style American clothing. The set was a single construction of layered platforms on short stilts with Shoji screens, representing a pagoda, and a stylized cherry tree with a realistic trunk and jeweled branches, giving us the flavor of an oriental garden with its graceful shape. Vignetted colors were projected onto a background screen which filled the entire back wall of the stage, communicating different times of day and the moods influencing each scene. This was a beautiful and effective way to create the impression of a set change without moving anything. At Cio Cio San’s suicide, the entire screen and stage were blood red – a powerful use of lighting to convey the intensity and desperation of the drama.
The chorus, led by chorus master Mercedes Juan Musotto, was strong where they needed to be, soft and lilting as geishas, horrified and accusatory toward Butterfly when they discovered her abandonment of their culture; in short, well rehearsed and ready for the show. This was a beautiful production, attested to by the cheers and tears of the audience, which applauded with enthusiasm and energy. Center Stage Opera has earned the loyalty of their fans.
Keep your calendar open for their 2014-2015 season which will include La Traviata, Into the Woods and Carmen. For more info, go to the company website at www.centerstageopera.org.