Vancouver Opera’s Madama Butterfly: Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Opera’s Madama Butterfly has it all

Vancouver Opera presents Madama Butterfly

continues March 10—12, 7:30 p.m., March 13, 2 p.m. matinee) |
Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St.)

Vancouver Opera’s latest staging of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly isn’t the final production of the season — Evita has that distinction later in the spring — but it is a consistently engaging mounting of an all-time opera favourite.

Conductor Leslie Dala gets a fine sound out of the VO orchestra, which played with the range of delicacy, sweep, and even brutality that Puccini demands. The set, an attractive confection originally designed for Pacific Opera Victoria, was opened out for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with evocative projections. There was some very fine singing from supporting roles, and first rate work from the principals: tenor Richard Troxell’s Pinkerton and Mihoko Kinoshita’s Cio-Cio-San would have shone in most any production.

What elevates this particular Butterfly is the contribution of director Michael Cavanagh, whose last work for the company was its landmark Nixon in China in 2010. At first glance, the production seems ultratraditional with a few kabuki-isms laid on for extra value. Closer consideration reveals a consistent vision of the piece; Cavanagh creates business and movement for his characters that helps define the enormous cultural gulf separating the Japanese and American characters.

Baritone Gregory Dahl, for example, sings an impressive Sharpless, the American consul; but he acts the part with insight as well. His wordless contempt for the reckless, heartless Pinkerton near the end of the opera is just one example of how Cavanagh gives his characters life and complexity.

As Suzuki, Butterfly’s servant and only confidant, mezzo Allyson McHardy makes the most of her telling supporting role.

Troxell swaggers his way through the expository opening of the piece, then morphs into seductive lover par excellence by the end of Act 1. Without, perhaps, exceptional top notes, his singing is both stylish and solid, his acting broad but effective. (Saturday’s audience offered a remarkable compliment during the ovations: generous applause for the singer, and vigorous booing for the cad he portrayed.)

Mihoko Kinoshita was wonderful in VO’s stylized 2010 production of Butterfly. She’s wonderful here again, very much a dramatic, dramatic soprano. Her understanding of the role is the foundation of the production.

In the century since its premiere, this Puccini/David Belasco melodrama set to music has consistently weathered the disapprobation of those interested in more advanced musical and theatrical styles. When given a production as full of content and intensity as this one, it’s hard to think of another work that offers such sustained appeal to connoisseurs and newcomers alike. Conventional old school opera, perhaps, but irresistible and compelling.

Madama Butterfly continues in performances March 10 through 13. Soprano Jee Hye Han and tenor Adam Luther alternate with Kinoshita and Troxell through the course of the six-performance run.

(Original: David Gordon Duke, Special to The Sun 03.07.2016 )