Madama Butterfly: An Overall Theatrical Experience of High Merit

United StatesUnited States  Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Kitsap Opera, soloists, Wayne Wyman (conductor), Therese Diekhans (director), Leone Cottrell-Adkins (producer), Richard Washek (set designer), Marilyn Fuller (costume coordinator), Theresa Ballew (stage manager), Mark Thomason (technical direction and lighting design), Admiral Theater, Bremerton, WA, 25.9.2011 (BJ)

That I enjoyed this production of Madama Butterfly as much as I did redounds notably to the credit of Leone Cottrell-Adkins and her intrepid Kitsap Opera company. The work itself is far from being my favorite Puccini opera: to my taste, it can’t hold a candle to La Bohème, which in turn belongs nowhere in the same league as Tosca.

The reasons for this are partly musical – there’s only one really good tune in the piece: that of the heroine’s intensely touching “Un bel dì” – and partly dramatic. It’s hard to feel entirely positive about an opera without a hero or at least a reasonably likeable male lead, and the tenor character in Butterfly, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, far from being a heroic, is the most contemptible sort of villain.

Jon Farmer, the production’s Pinkerton, can thus certainly not be blamed for not making that personage sympathetic, and he sang very well except for a touch of tightness at the top of the range. The other principals, who had pleasanter dramatic material to work with, offered compelling portraits and also sang splendidly. In the title role, Jacqueline Quirk unfurled a soprano voice that would have done credit to many a more prestigious opera house, and Benjamin Harris was equally compelling and rich-toned as the unfortunate Sharpless, who, as U.S. Consul in Nagasaki, is obliged to go along with his despicable compatriot’s behavior. Jordan McClellan was a supportive Suzuki, Grant Drees a suitably smarmy Goro. Smaller roles were well taken by Friedrich Schlott as the Imperial Commissioner and Prince Yamadori, Emily Riesser as Kate Pinkerton, and Karina Drees as Butterfly’s (non-singing) son, Trouble, but I thought Yu Seok Oh seemed too young and somewhat lacking in authority to be an adequately threatening Bonzo.

Several of these singers, and especially Quirk and Harris, must be particularly commended for their diction. A great deal of the Italian text emerged with unusual clarity. To a degree, this was a positive result from one slightly negative aspect of the whole, for while the orchestra was strong in the woodwind, brass, timpani, and percussion departments, there were too few strings to do full justice to Puccini’s sumptuous textures. String intonation, too, was rather approximate at times, though concertmaster Blanche Wynne’s solos were an honorable exception.

As producer, animator, artistic director, and general manager, Leone Cottrell-Adkins may almost be termed the “onlie begetter” of Kitsap Opera’s work, and she was originally announced as the conductor of this production. In the event, however, Wayne Wyman replaced her on the podium, and he paced the score with excellent judgement throughout. Along with Therese Diekhans’s sure-handed marshaling of the characters on stage, Richard Washek’s handsome unit set and Mark Thomason’s skillful and effective lighting contributed to an overall theatrical experience of high merit.

Bernard Jacobson