On Stage: Madame Butterfly

So I’m sitting on the couch watching the end of civilization as we know it, aka the Nightly News, when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what time it is!”

“Time to move to Canada?”

“Maybe. But it’s also our first night of Opera Season! Go shave off that stubble, put on a shirt that doesn’t have superheroes on it, and let’s go have a great time.”

“I can do two of those things, but I can’t guarantee the third.”

And so it was that last night we once again made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of Giacomo Puccini’s classic tale of love, betrayal and delusion — “Madame Butterfly.”

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Written in 1904, the show feels both dated and yet contemporary. The latter part largely because it reminded me of “Miss Saigon,” which shouldn’t be surprising since “Saigon” rips off the story line almost completely.

Cio-Cio-San (Rena Harms), aka M. Butterfly, is a 15-year-old Japanese geisha from a once wealthy family whose future now rests in a marriage with American Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Michael Brandenburg). She’s ecstatic over the union, he’s excited that he’s going to get some underage sex before he goes off to sea – never to be seen again.

The American Consul (Christopher Magiera) warns Pinkerton that this is a bad idea, but the lieutenant doesn’t listen. Cio-Cio’s uncle (Dominik Belavy) throws a big stink at the wedding and her family disowns her. Finally alone, the couple sing for a bit and then go off to engage in coitus while everyone else goes out for intermission.

When we return, two years have passed and Cio-Cio is now penniless and living with her 2-year-old child (coincidence?) and her faithful servant Suzuki (Renee Rapier). Despite their dire circumstances, Cio-Cio is certain that her husband will return.

And he does return eventually. With his new American wife Kate (Anush Avetisyan).

As operas go, “Madame Butterfly” is pretty entertaining. There’s not a lot of story but there is a lot of singing and music. It’s very good music, and that’s the key — I think I even recognized some of the music, which always makes me feel a little less culturally illiterate.

The cast is very talented, as are the musicians. Nice costumes and the staging was clever, although at times the Japanese house set did obstruct one’s view, even with a rotating stage.

“Madame Butterfly” runs through June 24. http://www.opera-stl.org 

 

 

 

 

 

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