Reviewed by Sherri Strichman
Once again, Tri-Cities Opera has pulled out all the stops in a glorious presentation of a classic opera, Madama Butterfly. Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a 15-year-old geisha in Japan who marries an American sailor was performed Sunday (Oct. 14) at The Forum in Binghamton.
In the production, stage directed by Johnathon Pape, the orientation of the setting is such that Nagasaki is located behind the audience rather than against the backdrop on stage. Anyone wishing to visit with Butterfly must walk through the theater and across a set of bridges over the orchestra pit. The orchestra itself was seated at the back of the stage.
The set design (by AmarA*jk) featured a beautiful rice-paper paneled house and a cherry tree in blossom. Since there was no curtain, the audience was able to appreciate the setting even before the start of the opera.
From the downbeat, it was clear that Andrew Altenbach‘s mastery of the orchestra, and some excellent playing by the musicians, would provide great musical color – lyric, romantic, dramatic, humorous. It stepped back as subtle background and forward as a lush underlining of the drama and text.
In the title role, Kasia Borowiec was beautiful both vocally and dramatically. Her strong voice soared in the lyric sections and provided steel in the dramatic sections, such as the introduction of her son and, later, her farewell to him. She was able to act with her voice with a myriad of colors. I have not previously had the pleasure of hearing her sing but expect to be hearing more about her.
Jordan Schreiner was in fine voice as the infatuated yet thoughtlessly cruel Pinkerton. In this operatic clash between cultures, classes and gender outlook, Pinkerton sees Butterfly as an object of temporary desire, but, to her, he is a forever love. Schreiner well-portrayed American Colonialism at its worst as he “married” his “little doll” (supertitles courtesy of Pensacola Opera), left her for three years and then returned to take their child away.
As Sharpless, the American consul, Aaron Stepanek was entirely sympathetic toward Butterfly, warning Pinkerton that his view of Butterfly and her culture as mere playthings was skewed and would lead to heartbreak.
Tesia Kwarteng was an empathetic character as Butterfly’s companion, Suzuki. She has a rich clear voice. The flower duet was charming, and her voice matched well with Borowiec. I look forward to her upcoming performances in TCO’s other offerings of this season.
The role of the weaselly marriage broker Goro was sung by Kevin Bryant, whose clear, clean tenor was strong and even. His antics had members of the audience snickering.
The supporting cast of John Shelhart (Imperial Commissioner), Erik Tofte (Registrar), Mark Webster (Bonze), Evan Nelson (Yamadori) and Lianne Aharony (Kate Pinkerton) also performed well. Jude O’Connell as Butterfly’s son clearly showed an ability to follow direction that bodes well for him.
A word or two about the chorus, well-trained by John Cockerill: I’ve never seen a chorus have to walk so far for Butterfly’s entrance or the hasty departure after she is denounced by the Bonze. It was truly impressive the way the singers stayed together while traveling, still able to sound good. Kudos especially to the ladies of the chorus for the wonderful augmented triads of “quanto cielo, quanti fior’” once they reached the stage.
The lighting by Betsy Adams was particularly effective in the transition from day to night to morning as Butterfly waited with her son and Suzuki for Pinkerton to appear.
The costuming (designed by Sandra Vest, coordinated by Katherine “Sue” Johnson) added even more to the color palette with the kimonos. I especially liked Kate’s dress in the final scene.
From start to finish, this production was about color – voices, orchestra, set, lighting, costumes, makeup and hair (designed by Shushu Vaughn with assistance from Jade Soto). Lovely, lovely.
Worth the price? Oh, yes, but, sadly, Sunday’s was the only performance. Such a pity. So much to love.