21 November 2008: Puccini, Madame Butterfly

Commonwealth Opera, at the Academy of Music, North­amp­ton. Stage director, Ron Luchsinger. Conductor Paul Phillips. In Italian, with English supertitles

The word on the street had it that Commonwealth Opera was in consider­able financial difficulty, at the beginning of the season, enough for the board to consider canceling or reducing the season. But they persevered with this produc­tion of Puccini’s deathless, most pitiable tragedy, to much good effect. True, the single-setting arrangement, with merely a bare stage, a simple backdrop and a few screens, gave the Academy of Music stage a rather bare, static, shallow look. We were forced to concentrate on the singing. But both principals — Yuriko Notatza as Cio-Cio-San and Peter Gage Furlong as Pinkerton — were well up to the musical and characterological demands of their roles, and both a pleasure to listen to. And of course, Puccini’s breathtakingly beautiful music, if even merely competently sung (and here it was more than merely competent) serves to carry all imperfections and quibbles before it, sweeping across whatever stage or platform is grounding it with unerring emotional fullness. Paul Phillips, artistic director and conductor of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, many of whose members were in the pit, served Puccini’s mellifluous score and his singers with lush, well articulated tones.

I believe this is the first staging of Butterfly that I have ever seen. Where have I been all my life? Pinkerton is even more detestable, and Cio-Cio-San even more pitiable, than they are in such lush recordings as the one I own, with Price and Tuck­er in the lead roles, even when the reduced circumstances of a strug­gling opera company are all too evident. More power to them, and to local opera com­pan­ies in general.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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