Monday, July 12, 2010

Festival Opera: Madame Butterfly

Festival Opera
Madama Butterfly
Conducted by Joseph Marcheso
Stage Director: Brian Staufenbiel

Cio-Cio San: Teresa Eickel
Suzuki: Nicole Takesono
Kate Pinkerton: Elizabeth O'Neill
Lt. Pinkerton: Christopher Bengochea
Sharpless: Philip Skinner
Goro: Andrew Whitfield
Prince Yamadori: Kurt Krikorian
The Bonze: John Bischoff
Sorrow: McKenna Ikue Whyte-Shearer

July 10, 8:00 p.m.
The Lesher Center for the Arts,
Walnut Creek, CA

It was good to attend this Madame Butterfly with the avid & relaxed Festival Opera audience, which has a nice community feel to it. Soprano Teresa Eickel is small & skinny enough to look like the teenage Butterfly, but she has big high notes that she uses judiciously for great dramatic effect. Tenor Christopher Bengochea had a narrow yet beautiful sound in Act I, & in Act III his high notes sounded much more open & free, making for a strong finish. Philip Skinner displayed solid singing & acting as Sharpless, & his was the most consistent performance of the evening.

The orchestra, though of modest size, was very loud. The brasses, especially the horns, sounded clean & smooth, but the string section had some intonation problems. For some reason the harp is in a nook at the level of the stage, instead of being in the pit. It was odd to hear it separated from the rest of the orchestra.

The staging is fairly traditional. Someone had the clever idea of opening each act with a shadow play projected on the scrim, though the performers' silhouettes often got too distorted. At the end of Act II, Butterfly punches spy-holes through the shoji screens looking out toward the audience. When all 3 characters stick their heads through & stare at us, the effect is inappropriately comical.

The oddest element of the production was the costuming, which did not make me think of Japan at all. Butterfly's relatives wore heavy draperies that made them look like tawdry gypsies. Goro, in a top hat, jacket & sash, looked like a character out of Dickens. Prince Yamadori had a very immodest outfit that made the women around me giggle. Or perhaps he had simply forgotten to put his pants on that evening.

Instead of an intermission, there was a 2 minute pause between the 2nd & 3rd acts. A stage hand walked out & replaced a cushion center stage, & the unexpected sight of her gave me a jolt. I was shocked by how much it took me out of the drama.

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