Madame Butterfly

by REBECCA HALAT, Guest Reviewer
The Minnesota Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly left me saddened—which is
exactly the goal of this story. Soprano Kelly Kaduce was impressive as Cio-Cio-San, the tragic young heroine whose life is altered by her marriage with an American lieutenant, Pinkerton (played by Arturo Chacón-Cruz). One side character of note was Joseph Beutel as Butterfly’s uncle playing a priest; I wish he had a larger role.

I am generally a fan of the operatic form, but do acknowledge that the typical storyline of many operas gets to be a bit bland: the main characters always fall in love, and then someone dies. This story (spoiler alert!), although it follows that same trajectory, does so in such an intensely heartbreaking way that there is nothing trite about it. Kaduce fulfilled her task in portraying this heartbreak. Not only was her voice stunning, her acting was superb. She accomplished the long waiting scene, with no speech or song, flawlessly. She could have relied solely on the expressiveness of her strong voice during much of the performance, but instead she eloquently demonstrated the agony of her situation in her movements, accented by her singing.

Kaduce and Chacón-Cruz shared excellent chemistry, and their portrayal allowed for a strong feel of the cultural differences between the United States and Japan. Although Chacón-Cruz was excellent as Pinkerton, due to his character’s limited presence on stage, especially during the more emotional scenes, Kaduce stole the show.

Chacón-Cruz, however, did offer an impressive performance while singing against the chorus. As a collective voice, the chorus tied scenes together. They all worked well as an ensemble, and clearly had excellent direction. The scenes where the chorus sang in a duet with Chacón-Cruz were some of my favorites. I imagine that the timing for such singing would be incredibly challenging, and when it is done well (which it was here), the singing comes across as effortless and seamless.

In all, I think that this traditional production of Madame Butterfly is well worth the ticket price. I might even recommend it for a new opera attendee, simply because the story is in fact quite compelling. My only hesitation in recommending this particular opera to an opera novice relates to the second and third act, which are long and somewhat tiring. This, of course, is all the fault of Puccini, the composer, and I’m relieved that this production remained faithful to his vision.

Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage. Presented by the Minnesota Opera at the Ordway, 345 Washington St., St Paul, MN 55102. April 14-22, 2012. Tickets $20-200 on www.mnopera.org or by calling the ticket office at 612.333.6669.

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