Wow, long time, no blog…apologies, whoever you are reading this, I have most definitely been slacking off for the last few weeks. Missed some shows I shoulda seen, didn’t write about some others I meant to…thank God I don’t get paid for this, or someone would have fired me a long time ago.
But somehow I keep getting invited to a few things, and that’s how I managed to sleaze my way on down to the NAC last night (Southam Hall, no less) to catch the latest from the cool kids at Opera Lyra, as they finished off what looked to be a very successful 2013/14 season. The show this evening was Puccini’s heartstabber MADAMA BUTTERFLY. Set at the turn of the last century, the story starts almost innocently enough in Nagasaki, where a visiting yankee solider named Pinkerton (Antoine Belanger) is renting a spacious house on a hill from local jack-of-all-trades Goro ((Joseph Hu). Goro being a somewhat enterprising businessman, he’s also finagled a marriage into the deal, selling Pinkerton the hand of local geisha Cio-Cio-San (Shuying Li) as a bit of n incentive on the lease. Pinkerton thinks little of it, fancying himself a mighty American citizen of the world, sampling its wares. But as American consul Sharpless (James Westman) warns him, his bride-to-be has different ideas. And indeed, the long suffering ‘Butterfly’ has fallen head over heels for her handsome Yank, renouncing her own religion to ingratiate herself to him. This doesn’t sit well with her family, especially her roaring priest uncle, ‘the Bonz’ (Valarian Ruminski) who disowns her. Still, act I ends on a peaceful, happy note, with the two young lovers settling in for a night of wedded bliss, with the world as their oyster and the future bright.
Somewhere between acts I and II everything goes straight to Hell, however, as is kind of par for the opera course. Pinkerton has left the country on business, which has taken more than 3 years, leaving Butterfly alone and near destitute, only her faithful servant Suzuki (Armine Kassabian) left to stand by her side. She insists that her love will be back for her, however, steadfastly refusing her earnest suitor Prince Yamadori (Gene Wu), despite his peculiar habit of clearly being the better choice. Eventually of course, Pinkerton DOES return…but not alone. And we all immediately wish he hadn’t.
Opera Lyra puts on sold, spectacular shows and BUTTERFLY is no exception. Shuying Li is flat-out terrific as our tragic heroine, a role she’s played on opera stages before and is already slated to again with the Colorado Opera. She absolutely lights up the stage when she makes her entrance, cranking the whole production up to eleven as she takes us through Cio-Cio-San’s trials, temptations and torture. If I can find a flaw in her counterpart, Antoine Belanger’s Pinkerton, it’s that the bastard actually comes off fairly likeable, when you really just wanna hate him. I did have a BIT of trouble hearing him at times in Act I, but I’ll chalk that up to the orchestra. Valarian Ruminski, a name even a dummy like me recognizes now after his smashing showing as Colline in LA BOHEME, puts his boss bass pipes to great scene-stealing use as the merrily over-the-top Bonz, who is officially my fav’rit opera character EVER. James Westman shines as the helpless Sharpless…Armine Kassabian’s fiercely loyal Suzuki is also a highlight, likewise Joseph Hu as scheming Goro. And of course, Tyrone Paterson and theNAC orchestra rock the house throughout.
This is a bit of a change from the last couple of shows I’ve seen from Lyra, just due to the pared-down nature of the story itself. Just the one set, and after the hubbub of the wedding scene, remarkably little actually happens in this story. That’s not a dig…the story revolves more around what DOESN’T happen, and it’s an intriguing watch as a result. There a few dragging moments in Act II, but they’re almost designed to do just that, as we wait helplessly along with Butterfly for a happy ending that just isn’t coming. So, yeah, spoiler alert…but it’s opera, they pretty much ALL end badly. It’s half the fun. And there’s plenty of fun in this one, folks, two chances left (tho not many empty seats when I went, so get on that!). Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)