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Much Ado About Something

Symphony Hall
01/27/2012 -  & January 28, 29 (Phoenix), February 4, 5 (Tucson), 2012
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Shu-Ying Li (Cio-Cio-San), Adam Diegel (Pinkerton), Jake Gardner (Sharpless), Maria Zifchak (Suzuki), Keith Jameson (Goro), Nathan Stark (Bonze), Daniel Scofield (Yamadori), Rebecca Sjöwall (Kate Pinkerton), Matthew Opitz (Imperial Commissioner), Clay Hilley (The Registrar), Andrew Baiamonte (Sorrow)
Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (Chorus Master), Joseph Rescigno (Conductor)
Kristine McIntyre (Director), Marie Anne Chiment (Set Designer), Doug Provost (Light Designer)

S.-Y. Li & M. Zifchak (© Tim Fuller/AO)

Expectations ran high these past weeks in Phoenix' operatic circles. This new production of Madama Butterfly, sold out for several weeks, was announced with anticipatory glee and excitement. We would shed tears, no doubt about that, but we would be overcome by the beauty of sets, costumes and voices. So, were we? For the most part, yes (except when a cell phone rang at the very moment the orchestra paused). This production is alluring, well sung and it never loses momentum.

Kristine MacIntyre’s direction remains in the mainstream of today’s perception of Puccini’s opera. She tells the story from Cio-Cio-San's point of view, making of the demure and compliant geisha of Act 1 a rebellious and self-determined woman, thus breaking with the stereotype of Asian women as seen by European or American men. And it works. Chinese soprano Shu-Ying Li is convincing: her Cio-Cio-San rings emotionally and psychologically true. Her soprano has a wide range and volume and notes are colored with distinction and appropriate nuance.
The delivery of “Un bel dì vedremo” is appealing, with the required pathos – however not exaggerated. She maintains a firm line till the climatic and powerful conclusion. Opposite Li is tenor Adam Diegel. His clarion, lyric voice has a sparkling timbre and the portrayal of the thoughtless American officer meets the expectations of the part. He sings the Act 1 love duet with sincerity and commitment. One of the best musical moments of the evening. Maria Zifchak is a more than adequate Suzuki. Her contributions to the beautifully staged flower duet and the intense trio with Pinkerton and Sharpless in Act 3 are commendable. Jake Gardner is a stylish, dignified Sharpless. All other supporting roles are sung with talent and acted out with conviction.

Visually, this production has a lot to offer. Dramatic lighting by Doug Provost and simple but tasteful sets by Marie Anne Chiment combine to create an elegant, yet not overpowering, Japanese atmosphere, with just the right amount of exotic imagery.

Seasoned conductor Joseph Rescigno offers a quite respectable, beautifully paced performance. He is sensitive but not self-indulgent, powerfully dramatic but not vulgar. Climaxes are presented with precise dynamics, and the surprisingly few fortissimos of the orchestral score have a cracking impact. Kudos to Arizona Opera Orchestra who responds with dedication and intensity, particularly to Concertmistress Linda Lambie whose accompaniment of the “Vogliatemi bene” in Act 1 is impeccable.

This Arizona Opera’s new production of Madama Butterfly is greeted by a deserved standing ovation and a drench of flowers for all the principals.

Christian Dalzon



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