Opera Review: Madama Butterfly


Tenor Gerard Powers as B. F. Pinkerton and soprano Kelly Kaduce as Butterfly.

The Boston Lyric Opera went all out for the first production of the season – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The beautiful performance showed why Butterfly is a repertoire staple at opera houses across the globe. The BLO’s production was of Puccini’s favorite of the three versions he wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. The stage, inspired by Kabuki theater, incorporated traditional Japanese colors and dress to create a sense of authenticity and accentuate the differences between the Japanese and American characters.

The opera:

Besides being an operatic masterpiece, Madama Butterfly presents an interesting contract dilemma. B. F. Pinkerton, an American navy lieutenant stationed in Japan, is set to marry Butterfly, a beautiful geisha. The pair seem to be in love, and the marriage contract is for 999 years. Pinkerton, however, can revoke the contract at a month’s notice. Butterfly believes the union is forever. Pinkerton is enthralled by his new bride, but when drinking with his friend Sharpless, he proposes a toast to the day when he will find himself “a real American wife.”

Butterfly and her family arrive and the wedding begins. The ceremony is interrupted by Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze, who reveals to the rest of her family that she went to the Christian mission and has forsaken her gods. The family curses Butterfly. Pinkerton consoles her and she replies that he is all she needs.

Act II opens with Butterfly alone in the house with only her servant, Suzuki. Pinkerton had been called to duty shortly after their wedding three years ago. Every day she hopes he will return. In fact, she is so sure of Pinkerton’s return that she mockingly rejects repeated marriage proposals from the wealthy Prince Yamadori.

Sharpless appears, bearing a letter from Pinkerton which is meant to inform Butterfly that he has remarried and will be returning with his American wife. Seeing Butterfly’s happiness when he mentions Pinkerton’s return, Sharpless cannot deliver the second part of the message. Butterfly then introduces Sharpless to her son who was born after Pinkerton left.

Finally, a ship arrives in the harbor. Butterfly decorates the house with flowers and waits all night. Suzuki convinces her to rest in the morning, promising that she will call when Pinkerton comes. Instead, Sharpless and Kate, Pinkerton’s new wife, arrive and ask Suzuki to help them convince Butterfly to let Kate and Pinkerton take her son to America. Horrified at having to ask a mother to give up her child, Suzuki has no choice but to agree to break the news. Butterfly wakes up and is frightened when she sees Kate. Kate confirms her fears, stating that she is the innocent cause of Butterfly’s tragedy. She promises to look after the child as if he were her own. Butterfly agrees to give up the boy, but only to Pinkerton. Overcome with remorse, Pinkerton runs to the house calling Butterfly’s name, but he is too late; Butterfly stabs herself.

The performance:

Kelly Kaduce’s performance in the title role can best be summarized by a conversation between two patrons after Act I. A woman commented, “She makes such a beautiful Butterfly.” “Oh! I am beside myself!” exclaimed her companion. Ms. Kaduce is at her best in the tragic scenes: after she is cursed by her family at the wedding and when she sings a heart-wrenching farewell to her child, asking that he remember her.

Tenor Gerard Powers as B. F. Pinkerton and baritone Carlos Archuleta as Sharpless were a good pair, portraying the foreigners infiltrating Japanese society in their western clothes. Archuleta conveyed his disapproval of Pinkerton’s behavior while showing how Butterfly’s suffering affected him. Powers was solid as Pinkerton, showing his ambivalence between truly caring for Butterfly and at the same time not taking their marriage seriously.

Maestro Keith Lockhart, who has conducted the Boston Pops since 1995, did a superb job at the helm. The singers and orchestra blended together perfectly, especially during Pinkerton and Butterfly’s duet at the end of Act I.

Madama Butterfly can be seen at the Shubert Theater on Friday November 10 at 7:30pm, Sunday November 12 at 3:00pm, and Tuesday November 14 at 7:30pm. Half price student tickets are available at the box office in advance with proper ID.

Rating: ***1/2

Anna Brook, 3L, has added Madama Butterfly to her list of favorite operas. Although it is a somewhat lengthy list, it has remained selective.

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