‘Madama Butterfly’ proves a crowd pleaser

MIDDLEBURY — Director Doug Anderson lifted up a bolt of magic fabric before the packed Town Hall Theater audience at Friday’s performance of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and let it slowly unspool, delicately unwinding into wave after wave of beautiful music.

In other words, he’s done it again.

The Opera Company of Middlebury bookended the summer with glorious music, starting with the acclaimed and adventurous “Thaïs” in June and ending with “Madama Butterfly.” The choice of this popular and beloved opera is an absolute treat. Its story is direct, compelling and tragic with exquisite music. No matter how many times one has seen or listened to it when performed as beautifully as it was on Friday it all becomes new again.

Described as a “semi-staged concert version” the evening was musically lush and stylistically elegant. The opera was a wonderfully cast ensemble of consummate artists who seem to inhabit their roles and who were backed up with the ever-impressive Maestro Emmanuel Plasson and the full orchestra of the Opera Company of Middlebury. If that was not enough, they were joined by the 39-member Middlebury College Choir under the direction of Jeffrey Buettner. The set, costuming and props were simple and evocative of the time and place of Butterfly’s world.

At the center of the story is Cio-Cio-San, the beautiful geisha who gives up all for love with the American Lt. Pinkerton. Starring in this role is Mihoko Kinoshita, who has sung Cio-Cio-San throughout the world, which may explain her ability to bring all the facets of the character to life, which then lead to her tragic conclusion. Her voice is a wonder and she delivered all the thrilling and demanding delights of the role with seeming ease. Her natural acting style and that supernatural soprano made all her duets a treasure and her aria of “Un Bel Di” was radiantly performed.

Daniel Snyder as Pinkerton is a marvelous match for her. His all-American good looks and muscular tenor voice make us hope against hope he will live up to Cio-Cio-San’s dreams. His “Long Duet” with Kinoshita in Act I was especially mesmerizing, with its intimacy and grace and he brought a sensitivity to the role that made us believe that his remorse is genuine when he finally returns to Japan.

As Suzuki, the loyal maid, Hyo Na Kim was absolutely lovely. Her dynamic mezzosoprano voice combined with her graceful stage presence added much to the evening. The delightful “Cherry Duet” with her and Cio-Cio-San was served up with style, joy and magnificent musicianship.

Sharpless, the American consul, is the moral center of the story and Ricardo Rivera’s resonant bass voice brought gravitas and compassion to the role. The scene between him and Cio-Cio-San as he makes the choice not to be the one who brings her devastating news was beautifully performed and included a wonderful and dramatic interchange with Cio-Cio-San that had us all leaning forward in our seats.

A fact I didn’t know until I read the program after the performance was that Erik Kroncke plays both The Bonze, Cio-Cio-San’s uncle who denounces her, as well as Yamadori, the would-be suitor, who depresses her. His Bonze was intimidating and his Yamadori was fabulously taken with himself, and both roles were sung beautifully and powerfully.

Scott Ingram as Goro, the marriage broker who sets it all in motion, brought a bouncy, lighthearted quality to his role that served as a marvelous counterpoint to the emotions surrounding him.

And Nathaniel Fredrick McVeigh as Dolore, Cio-Cio-San’s beloved son was perfect. He brought sweetness to the role, never stole focus and made everyone in the audience want to cuddle him up in their arms.

The evening was, in every sense, a crowd pleaser, and clearly, by the “Bravos” and standing ovation at the curtain call, the crowd was mightily pleased. Bravo, Opera Company of Middlebury!

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