Saturday night, April 16, we attended San Diego Opera’s presentation of operatic warhorse, Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini. I had seen it not long ago at Los Angeles Opera with Ana Maria Martinez, resplendent in the title role, and was very much looking forward to seeing it with Latonia Moore, who had received good notices when she substituted at the Metropolitan Opera. Overall, I would say I was not disappointed, particularly during the connected last two acts.
Production. The production, which originated with Opéra Montreal, was quite different from, and much more traditional than the Francesca Zambello production used here in the last two stagings of this opera. This had its plusses and minuses. Saturday night’s production, with its charming use of cherry trees and shoji screens was beautiful, and I did not miss the ackwardness of the Zambello production’s setting of the opening scene in the American Consulate, with its miniature model house, but I did miss the theatricality of the previous production, for example, the beautifully lit love duet, the rain of cherry blossoms in the Butterfly-Suzuki duet, and most of all, the arrival of the ship and exit of passengers during the long musical interlude between the second and third acts, which now involves Butterfly in an elaborate pantomime. But given the need to present the conservative San Diego audience with something new, this production certainly worked.
The Singing. The star of the evening was, of course, Latonia Moore, who makes an emotionally convincing Butterfly. During Butterly’s entrance; however, her voice did not seem to bloom. She may have been holding back something for the long second-third act. As the first act progressed; however, her singing improved and after intermission, she was superb, with a beautiful “Un bel di,” and was emotionally devastating as one watched Butterfly go from stubborn denial of the obvious truth to the recognition her true plight and suicide. The opeining night audience rose to its feet at the end in an unforced, spontaneous standing ovation as Moore took her solo bow after the curtain fell.
Tucker scholarship award winner, J’nai Bridges, as Suzuki, displayed a rich mezzo-soprano voice and touching loyalty as Suzuki.
I can best describe the voice of the Pinkerton, Romanian tenor, Teodor Ilicai, as “sturdy,” and sounding a bit “shouty” to me. In softer parts, he did manger some subtlety.
The real vocal “find” for me was Anthony Clark Evans in the rather thankless role of Sharpless. Evans, a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner, has been singing in the Chicago Lyric Opera’s young artist’s program. This may be his “main stage” debut in a lead role, and he will go far. He impressed greatly with his rolling, easily produced, baritone voice. I certainly hope to see him back in San Diego soon.
All the of smaller roles were well sung, and Joseph Hu, was especially noteworthy as Goro, the marriage broker.
Conductor Yves Abel and the San Diego Symphony performed admirably the orchestrally complex score.