MADAMA BUTTERFLY – A Beautiful Ensemble At San Francisco Opera

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

MADAMA BUTTERFLY now at San Francisco Opera through November 27th is a completely satisfying musical and dramatic experience. The production, created by Tony Award winning Harold Prince and originating from Lyric Opera of Chicago, captures a rich blending of tradition and enchantment. Set designer Clarke Dunham’s house for the 15-year-old geisha, “Cio-Cio-San”, and her newly wedded American husband, Navy Lieutenant “Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton”, floats high in the hills of Nagasaki overlooking the harbor where the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln has anchored. It revolves completely, pulled by the “Koken” –dutifully anonymous stage assistants dressed in black who help the performers with costume changes and props, ultimately pulling a streamer of red ribbon from Butterfly’s waist – a symbolic rush of blood from her suicide. Lighting designer Christine Binder bathes the storybook setting in sunshine when Pinkerton signs the marriage contract – which, as with the lease on the house, can be annulled at the end of each month – and sprinkles the heavens with starlight as a blood-red moon hovers over their climactic love duet of Act I, “Viene La Sera”. Costume designer Florence Klotz provides an unusual change for Butterfly in Act II, giving her a corseted and bustled gown to compliment her new role as an American wife in her American home.

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MADAMA BUTTERFLY – Set design, Clarke Dunham.
Production photos, Cory Weaver

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SVETLA VASSILEVA (Cio-Cio-San)
STEFANO SECCO (Lt. B.F. Pinkerton)

Svetla Vassileva conveys a youthful Cio-Cio-San. Her voice is beautifully balanced, complimented by an easy glide between a sweet pianissimo and climactic forte. The signature aria, “Un bel di”, was filled with persuasion and joy. Vassileva is trim and graceful, with boundless energy, embodying all the passion, naiveté, and determination of the tragic heroine who will choose to die with honor rather than live in shame. Her tonality is an ideal compliment to that of her leading man and supporting companion, “Suzuki”, sung by former Adler Fellow mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas

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DAVEDA KARANSAS (Suzuki) and SVETLA VASSILEVA.

Stefano Secco is now a familiar presence in San Francisco. His recent appearances in the 2009 gala performance of the Verdi Requiem and then to his debut with SF Opera in the title role of Faust have taken him from being a reliable tenor to growing heights of vocal splendor with this performance as “Pinkerton” – the sailor you love to hate. Secco’s voice is strong and bright. His recordings include his appearance as “Cavaradossi” in the recently released DVD of Tosca and as “Rinuccio” in the Naxos CD of Gianni Scicchi.

Never interfering with the lush phrasing of the vocal line, conductor Nicola Luisotti keeps the tempo moving at a steady brisk pace – artistically appropriate and so appreciated, considering the length of the second Act. Fine performances were delivered by Thomas Glenn as “Goro”, Quinn Kelsey as “Sharpless”, Christian Van Horn as “The Bonze”, current Adler Fellows Austin Kness as “Prince Yamadori” and (as the new American wife) Sara Gartland as “Kate Pinkerton”. The ensemble of Butterfly’s disapproving relations – and later as the off-stage voices of the poignant “Humming Chorus” – blossomed under the direction of Ian Robertson.

The opera continues tonight, October 15th at 8:00. Click here to purchase tickets on-line to the following performances: MADAMA BUTTERFLY
Wednesday, October 20th (7:30 p.m.)
Saturday, 10/23 (8 p.m.)
Tuesday, 10/26 (7:30 p.m.)
Friday, 10/29 (8 p.m.)
Friday, 11/5 (8 p.m.)
Thursday, 11/11 (7:30 p.m.)
Sunday, 11/14 (Matinee, 2 p.m.)
Wednesday, 11/17 (7:30 p.m.)
Sunday, 11/21 (Matinee, 2 p.m.)
Saturday, 11/27 (8 p.m.)

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SVETLA VASSILEVA – as “Cio-Cio-San”
Photo, Cory Weaver

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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