Designer Jun Kaneko’s production of Puccini’s MADAME BUTTERFLY now at San Francisco Opera through July 9 is a miraculous combination of transparent beauty, high tech grandeur, musical genius, and vocal rapture. In all of his costume and stage designs Kaneko’s controlled color palette and signature touches of falling lines, interweaving parallels, elusive revolving patterns, and fleeting geometric shapes are magnified against a cyclorama that is continuously washed in mood-altering colors. A small number of various shaped screens rise and fall to carry Kaneko’s digital projections – all of it evolving with the flow of the music and the unfolding of the plot. The changes are perfectly in-synch with the score and inseparable from the passion of the characters. Maestro Nicola Luisotti is the finest conductor of Puccini in the world and the heart of San Francisco Opera.
Patricia Racette is the definitive Butterfly, “Cio Cio San”. At the first performance, Racette’s vocal range and dramatic phrasing was liquid gold. Her overall tonality and control reveals a fullness and strength that seems to have surpassed even the fondest memory of her previous performances as Butterfly at San Francisco Opera in 2006 and 2007. Her voice was in full blossom for this Sunday afternoon opening and – for such seasoned and consummate interpreters of Puccini’s most vulnerable heroine – Time stands very still.
As Butterfly’s maid, “Suzuki”, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong is a formidable compliment. Her aggressive energy, along with the rich shadings of her lower register, establishes right off to any and all comers that they have to get past her first before advancing toward her mistress. Even so, she has a bit of girlish glee upon meeting young Lieutenant Pinkerton. In the sumptuous Flower Duet of Act II, DeShong and Racette dovetail sweet harmonies as they scatter the gathered blossoms. And in her final moments with Butterfly in Act III, DeShong exudes both ancient wisdom and tender pathos.
Tenor Brian Jagde is simply a dream come true as “Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton”. His character, of course, is the ultimate cad, the definition of the Ugly American. But for the trusting Butterfly – who gives up family, social acceptance and sheds her religious convictions for the god of her husband – Jagde is the ideal package. His full lyric tenor stems from his training with San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program and Adler Fellows. In addition to his recent Met debut as Count Elemer in Richard Strauss' Arabella, Brian makes his debut at Covent Garden as Pinkerton and in the fall will return to SF Opera as Cavaradossi.
Brian Mulligan is outstanding as “Sharpless”, the U.S. Consul at Nagasaki. Brian’s dynamic baritone chops are well remembered from his 2012 appearances in the title role of Nixon In China and as “The King’s Herald” in Lohengrin. Tenor Julius Ahn makes an impressive SF Opera debut as the self-serving matchmaker, “Goro”. And baritone Efraín Solís is delightfully wan as Butterfly’s determined but ineffectual suitor, “Prince Yamadori”.
Madame Butterfly continues through Wednesday, July 9. Click on the date to order tickets on-line:
Saturday, June 21, 8 pm
Friday, June 27, 8 pm
Thursday, July 3, 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 6, 2 pm
Wednesday, July 9, 7:30 pm