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SF Opera's triumphant Madame Butterfly runs through July 9

Madame Butterfly, the classic heart-rending story of seduction and loss plays in repertory at the San Francisco Opera as part of its summer series. La Traviata and Showboat round out the repertoire.

Madame Butterfly looms over her lover Pinkerton.
Madame Butterfly looms over her lover Pinkerton.
Cory Weaver/SF Opera

The most striking aspect of Puccini’s music is its coherence with Jun Kaneko’s stage pictures. The composer took pains to give much of the music an Asian feel, except for scenes between the Americans.

Not only does the score run non-stop throughout, but the most important melodic themes belong to the orchestra, a somewhat unusual choice in opera vernacular.

Puccini composed specific musical themes for the individual characters, in which each is proficiently portrayed. The SF Opera’s cast proves equal to the task of bringing these archetypes to light.

Patricia Racette’s ability to reveal character is extraordinary, as she facilely portrays the 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San, as well as the 40-something Julie in Showboat. Brian Jagde, Morris Robinson, Elizabeth DeShong and Brian Mulligan all display intelligent insight into their roles.

It is a testament to the mythic quality of Butterfly that its motifs have emerged in other media. For example, the tragedy is such a mainstay of American culture that it has been featured in a number of mainstream motion pictures, notably My Geisha, starring Shirley MacLaine. The movie delves beneath the surface to explore Butterfly’s character and sensibilities.

Madame Butterfly is sung in Italian with English supertitles, and runs 2.75 hours with one intermission. Butterfly plays at the San Francisco Opera, 301 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. Tickets range from $68 to $379, and are available at (415) 864-3330 or on the website.