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The great favourite sails on

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
10/10/2014 -  & October 11, 15*, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 31, 2014
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Patricia Racette*/Kelly Kaduceas (Cio-Cio San), Stefano Secco*/Andrea Carè (B.F. Pinkerton), Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki), Dwayne Croft*/Gregory Dahl (Sharpless), Julius Ahn*/Michael Colvin (Goro), Robert Gleadow (The Bonze), Clarence Frazer (Prince Yamadori), Gene Wu (Yakuside), Alexandra Lennox-Pomeroy (Cio-Cio San’s Cousin), Lilian Kilianski (Cio-Cio San’s Mother), Karen Olinyk (Cio-Cio San's Aunt), Iain MacNeil (The Imperial Commissioner), Gordon Bintner (The Official registrar)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Patrick Lange (conductor)
Brian Macdonald (director), Susan Benson (set and costume designer), Michael Whitfield (lighting designer)

E. DeShong, P. Racette, D. Croft (© Michael Cooper)

It seems to be a truth, universally acknowledged, that no more than five years may pass before the COC brings back Madama Butterfly (read here). So here we are again with the most frequently performed opera in the company’s history, in a 12-performance run, and a virtually full house on a Wednesday evening.

Brian Macdonald has returned to remount his production (it dates from 1990) which, like Susan Benson’s sets and costumes, emphasizes lyrical subtleties of mood and movement. One result is that moments of violence emerge in a startling manner, as when, goaded by the Bonze, Cio-Cio San’s family denounce her, or when in act II Suzuki attacks the bothersome Goro (Julius Ahn apparently has acrobatic as well as vocal skills).

In his local debut, conductor Patrick Lange seems to take his cue from the delicate nature of the production. The result might feel a bit languorous at times, but musical climaxes are given their full due.

Patricia Racette is one of the noted Cio-Cio Sans of the day. The voice had a pronounced vibrato at first (a subsequent topic of interval discussion) and her “Un bel dì” received appreciative rather than rapturous applause. However she really came into her own in act III when the full weight of the tragedy gathers force.

Stefano Secco has an attractive voice, middle-weight in size - the kind of voice that comes across very nicely in the Four Seasons Centre. It’s a pity that a noisy minority in the audience feels the need to boo the “villain” (Claggart in Billy Budd get the same treatment). Not only is this tiresome but boorish as well.

Elizabeth DeShong is the only principal scheduled for all 12 performances. She is a full-voiced, tigerish Suzuki, especially in act III.

The biggest change in the production from previous outings is the treatment of Sharpless. Formerly he was shown as a huffing bumbler but this time he embodies full dignity and anguish. Dwayne Croft might lack the requisite amplitude in extreme moments, but is otherwise ideal.

Robert Gleadow is an electrifying Bonze and Clarence Frazer has true royal presence as Prince Yamadori. Karina Boucher’s statuesque presence made memorable the brief appearance of Kate Pinkerton, here portrayed as forbiddingly aloof.

Two cavils: the scattering of cherry blossoms is rather paltry, and the offstage humming chorus is almost subliminal.

This particular evening featured the first of two casts, the other consisting of Kelly Kaduce in the title role, with Andrea Carè as Pinkerton, Gregroy Dahl as Sharpless, and Michael Colvin as Goro.

One might expect that this overly performed work might be just another assembly line Butterfly, and those who are terminally jaded won’t attend anyway. But the thought and sensitivity behind the production results in something worthwhile indeed.

Michael Johnson



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