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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Opera Review: Don't Sniff the Cherry Blossoms.

Shu-Ying Li as Cio-Cio San.
© 2007 New York City Opera
Madama Butterfly at New York City Opera
The Spring 2010 revival of the City Opera's Spartan staging of Butterfly is anchored by the roof-raising performance of Shu-Ying Li in the title role. This is an opera that rests squarely on the slim shoulders of its teenaged protagonist. Ms. Li displayed exceptional technique and acting ability, turning the suffering of Cio-Cio San into a tour de force.

Her Act I entrance was impressive, surrounded by her Japanese family. Butterfly is only 15 here, a professional geisha who suddenly falls in love with her new "husband." Ms. Li's voice burst into full flower in the big love duet that ends the first act.

Despite the vocal issues suffered by Steven Harrison (Pinkerton was battling an allergy attack) this was a compelling portrait of Butterfly's wedding night, setting the audience up for the tragedy to come.

Starting with Act II, Ms. Li did what any soprano must in the role of Butterfly: she took over the opera. With "Un bel di", Ms. Li opened up her instrument even further and displayed her full dramatic range. As she rose up the scales, her voice increased and swelled to full-throated volume, a stunning sound in the improved acoustics of the David H. Koch Theater. Conductor George Manahan was able to let Puccini's lush orchestrations wash over the audience. Ms. Li simply soared over the top, her powerful performance: equal parts passion and obsession.

She was aided by a strong supporting cast. Nina Yoshida Nelsen was a compassionate, authentic Suzuki. Mr. Harrison was a convincing Pinkerton, despite his health issues. Jeffery Halili was a slimy, obsequious Goro. Baritone Quinn Kelsey was an amiable Sharpless, able to see the disaster coming but unable to do anything about it. A performance like his makes one wish Puccini had given the ineffectual American consul an aria of his own.

Finally, the young Eddie Schweighardt gave a brilliant, funny performance as "Sorrow," the young product of the union between Pinkerton and Butterfy. This mute, but important character (who is played by a puppet in the Met's current production) was given extra acting responsibilities in the second and third acts, and this promising young actor met them admirably.

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