Atlanta Opera 11/5/22
DESPITE ITS OPENING NIGHT FAILURE at Teatro alla Scala in 1904, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly became a perennial crowd-pleaser in the last century, well-loved for its tragic and innocent heroine, exotic milieu, and irresistible melodies. The Atlanta Opera opened its 2022–23 mainstage season with a revival of the AO-Castleton Festival Madama Butterfly last seen in Atlanta in 2014. It’s a lovely production designed by Erhard Rom and Allen Charles Klein, its scenery comprised of vivid projections neatly framed by a bamboo fringe. Stunning lighting effects, compliments of Robert Wierzel, and antique filmed media, created by Felipe Barral and Amanda Sachtleben, add emotional intensity and are a hallmark of this production. And yet miscalculation in casting prevented this season’s Atlanta Butterfly from transcending mediocrity.
Conductor Timothy Myers did an admirable job leading the Atlanta Opera Orchestra in a sensitive reading of the score, providing ampleness of sound and color. However, Act I got off to a subdued start: Atlanta’s Lieutenant Pinkerton, tenor Gianluca Terranova, lacked the requisite juvenescence and vocal power to launch the tragedia giapponese. Sharpless, played by Craig Colclough, outshone Terranova in Act I with his pristine diction and nuanced characterization, making Terranova’s deficit more pronounced. The ensuing Pinkerton–Butterfly duets, with Terranova paired with Yasko Sato’s Cio-Cio-San were also misfires, despite Sato’s limpid vocalism. Cio-Cio-San’s naïveté, and then her disillusionment, were conveyed by Sato in a carefully executed characterization, that was met by uninspired, generalized gestures from Terranova.
In collaboration with cultural consultant Kevin Suzuki, AO general and artistic Director Tomer Zvulun directed a cast of veteran and neophyte singers in a novel staging that incorporated traditional Japanese movement. Nina Yoshida Nelsen’s stagecraft was the truest representation of this: the mezzo sang the role of Suzuki in Atlanta in 2014 and was on hand again in this revival. Julius Ahn proved a sprightly and nimble Goro while Glynn Studio Artist Gretchen Krupp regally sang the role of Kate Pinkerton. Leroy Davis, a graduate of the Ryan Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, interpreted the role of Prince Yamadori with luxurious tones. Korean baritone Suchan Kim brought weighty, full-bodied vocalism to the Bonze’s attempt to shame Cio-Cio-San. Allen Michael Jones and Andrew Gilstrap played the Imperial Commissioner and Official Registrar respectively. Both singers possess exciting instruments, resonant and deep-seated.
Sadly, Rolando Salazar’s opera chorus did not make a compelling band of characters and lacked a unified resonance during their first appearance. But in Act II, Zvulun situated the women’s chorus on the catwalk above the audience for the humming chorus, creating an ethereal auditory effect and setting the tone for Butterfly’s imminent heartbreak.