Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Accessible Opera for Orlando

More photos from Madama Butterfly on Facebook.

It was a much younger version of myself who spent all day listening to great classical music, operas, jazz, and Broadway tunes. I don’t know what happened to that guy, but I saw a glimpse of him again last night when I had the fortune to get an invite to the dress rehearsal of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s excellent production of Puccini’s tragic opera Madama Butterfly.

A dress rehearsal is an interesting thing because it is very much work for those involved (as opposed to the ticketed nights which are performances, still work, but with a focus on the product instead of the process). The team involved in Madama Butterfly went about the evening in a very determined manner even as they worked out the few remaining kinks. I’m the type of art fiend that likes to see what goes on behind the curtain, so it was my pleasure to witness it all.

Madama Butterfly is already one of Puccini’s most accessible operas. The unique staging for this production has made it even more so. Rather than put the orchestra in the pit, they are up on the main stage and a smaller stage has been built where the musicians normally would be, practically in the audience’s lap. This makes the sound bigger, but the performance more intimate. For the final touch of accessibility, there is an English translation of the songs, which are sung in Latin, above the stage.

More photos from Madama Butterfly on Facebook.

Originally I understood that this would be a concert performance. If you’ve seen the 25th Anniversary Les Miserable Concert (and why haven’t you?), then you know what I was expecting. But it was much more than that. In addition to full wigs and costumes, there were small set pieces, and a gorgeous digital backdrop. While the sets never changed, the backdrop did and helped provide changes in mood that would otherwise have been missed.

However, even without the light stage direction, it would have been a powerful performance with just the talents of the performers.

Soprano Shu-Ying Li won the 2008 EMMY for her lead role in Madama Butterfly Live from the New York City Opera. She brought a tightly controlled voice and wide range of emotion to the role.

Brian Jagde, who has the good fortune to share Robert Pattinson’s handsomely chiseled profile, took the tenor of Lieutenant Pinkerton just far enough so as not to be smug so that you still felt compassion for him at the end, when really Pinkerton deserves little. The role of Consul Sharpless was filled more than ably by local performer Thomas Potter, professor of voice at UCF.

One of the real standouts of the evening was Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki, as performed by Mika Shigematsu. The liner notes list her as one of the most distinguished of all living interpreters of that sympathetic role, which is probably true. Shigematsu cuts through Suzuki’s complicated layers like butter. She is the perfect support for Li when called for, but is able to hold her own when needed as well.

Many of the other supporting roles were played by locals. I found it to be enchanting. Orlando is not New York, but the blending of the international talent and local performers was seamless and says a lot for the locals that they could hold their own against some of the best.

Sadly there will only be two performances of Madama Butterfly at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. You’ll have to go either Friday (tomorrow) at 8pm or Sunday at 2pm. But do go.

Get your tickets online.