Atlanta Opera opened its 2014-15 season with Madama Butterfly (seen Nov. 8), a co-production with the Castleton Festival. The new Butterfly marks the initial show of AO artistic and general director Tomer Zvulun’s first planned season at the company. Zvulun assumed responsibility for staging Madama Butterfly as well — and there is no doubt that Zvulun is an apt stage director.
This Castleton-AO production was a far cry from the Jun Kaneko version seen in Atlanta six years ago, which featured abstract computer graphics and a quartet of mysterious Kurogo characters that came and went throughout the opera. This season’s production, designed by set and projection designer Erhard Rom, utilized fluid projections throughout. Whether it was a muted view of the Nagasaki Harbor or cherry blossoms, Butterfly became a multimedia event with exciting operatic singing. The symphonic interlude between Acts II and III felt retro, as if we were staring at the entr’acte screen from Dr. Zhivago and listening to a heart-wrenching film score. While it may be sacrilege to compare the music of Puccini to a soundtrack by Maurice Jarre, the psychological effect of an ever-changing landscape provided a restless twenty-first-century audience constant visual and aural stimulation.
Maestro Arthur Fagan led the Atlanta Opera orchestra and chorus with aplomb. Both performed well under his leadership, providing the solo singers with generous phrasing and harmonies upon which they could rely. It was especially lovely to hear them in light of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing contract disputes. Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre was almost filled to its 2750-seat capacity on opening night — perhaps in response to the city’s current artistic crisis. (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was still embroiled in contract disputes when Butterfly opened; a new labor contract was announced on November 9.)
Dina Kuznetsova made her Atlanta Opera debut as Cio-Cio San. She embodied Butterfly’s humility and devotion, infusing each phrase with a roundness of tone and commanding a grand dynamic range. Her “Un bel dì” was exceedingly and convincingly intimate. Adam Diegel, her Pinkerton, deployed a penetrating, highly-placed tenor voice that was riveting to hear.
Nina Yoshida Nelson was Suzuki, underscoring Cio-Cio San’s pathos in Act III with her luxurious voice and incredibly expressive face. Corey McKern was a debonair Sharpless, the conscience that Pinkerton chose to routinely ignore. Jason Ferrante was well-suited for the character role Goro. Merola graduate Joseph Lattanzi sang Prince Yamadori majestically while Kyle Albertson played Bonze and delivered his lines with a menacing baritone. Neophyte Alan Higgs made a promising operatic debut in the brief role of Imperial Commissioner and Ashley Curling’s lovely Mozartean voice fulfilled the role of Kate Pinkerton.