Giacomo Puccini’s ever-popular “Madama Butterfly” drew a near-capacity crowd to Memorial Auditorium on Friday for the N.C. Opera’s production. The audience was rewarded with the company’s finest large-scale staging in its six seasons – powerfully sung, beautifully played, confidently directed. It also was the debut of a new interpreter of the title role, poised to become the next great Butterfly.
The tale of the young Japanese woman abandoned by her American husband still grips the heart and thrills the ear. The opera is deceptive in its seeming simplicity, a realistic plot devoid of spectacle. But it’s a minefield of details that must be just right for their effects. The N.C. Opera’s presentation proved that all concerned understood those details.
Conductor Timothy Myers demonstrated deep understanding of the lush score’s emotions and drama, coaxing his skilled orchestra into waves of romantic melodies and electrifying climaxes. Director E. Loren Meeker moved the characters naturally, the whole production extremely polished. David P. Gordon’s lovely, picture-postcard setting changed subtly over time through Mark McCullough’s soft-hued lighting.
There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, with the bonus of strong, often riveting acting. Talise Trevigne put down a firm claim on the demanding role of Butterfly, her first attempt full of radiant vocalism, meltingly lyrical or boldly emphatic as needed. Her characterization was less shy and vulnerable and more worldly and self-assured than usually seen. Trevigne was still knitting together all the moods and emotions on Friday, but it seems inevitable that she’ll soon be widely known for this role.
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Tenor Michael Brandenburg’s voice soared and filled the auditorium as Butterfly’s callous husband, Pinkerton. Lindsey Ammann’s focused, warm mezzo was perfect for Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid, and she acted the part’s fierce devotion superbly. Michael Sumuel’s American Consul Sharpless was an audience favorite for his warmly sympathetic portrayal and his booming baritone. As the obsequious, conniving marriage broker, tenor Ian McEuen delightfully mined all the humor in the part.
The cameo roles were well-filled, with special mention for Wei Wu’s hair-raising Bonze, the priest who curses Butterfly for renouncing her religion. Scott Macleod’s chorus enhanced the wedding party scene and was ethereal in the off-stage humming as Butterfly waits through the night for Pinkerton’s return.
If you go
What: Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” presented by N.C. Opera
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Art, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 3 p.m. Nov. 1
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org