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Los, a “fascinating” Cio-Cio-San at PORTopera
© marthamickles 2012
Maine's PORTopera marked its eighteenth season with an impressive production of Madama Butterfly, an opera not presented by the company since its 1996 season. PORTopera's artistic director Dona D. Vaughn elicited from her talented cast striking and nuanced performances rooted in the reality of each character's emotional life. Under the leadership of Stephen Lord, the orchestra rose to the occasion, doing justice to the sweeping romanticism of Puccini's score and giving solid support to the singers.
Enhanced by effective lighting, the open set consisted of shallow steps and platforms backed by a wall of translucent framed panels that could move vertically and horizontally, allowing for a variety of stage pictures. Vaughn used the set brilliantly to create intimate moments as well as the necessary pageantry.
As Cio-Cio San, soprano Inna Los sang with power and intensity, displaying a rich middle range, as well as thrilling high notes. Her well-considered characterization was fascinating, showing Cio-Cio-San's transition from a very playful, seductive young geisha, starry-eyed about Pinkerton, to a woman who realizes the terrible reality of his rejection. Los's "Un bel dì" was notable for its dynamic range as she expressed Cio-Cio-San's desperate need to convince herself, as well as Suzuki, that a faithful Pinkerton would return. Adam Diegel's Pinkerton had the requisite casual charm in Act I, as he entered with some buddies from his ship to be shown around Butterfly's house. His strong tenor easily filled the house, and in the love duet with Butterfly he matched Los's delicate colors and sensitive phrasing.
The Suzuki of Heather Johnson was an outstanding portrayal. Her warm, expressive mezzo is ideally suited to the role, and Vaughn's staging highlighted her close relationship with Cio-Cio-San. Johnson's singing in the Act II trio was compelling, as she joined Diegel and Edward Parks's Sharpless in one of the evening's highlights, beautifully supported by Lord's shaping of the lush melodies. Parks made a very youthful American Consul — perhaps Nagasaki was his first diplomatic posting — but his characterization grew in assurance and dignity during the course of the evening. Parks has a beautiful baritone that is ideally suited to the role, so one hopes that there will be many more Sharplesses in his future.
John McVeigh used his distinctive tenor to good effect as the manipulative Goro. Solomon Howard made a powerful impression as the Bonze, and Robert Mellon was effective as the persistent Yamadori. Eliza Bonet made the most of her brief appearance as Kate Pinkerton, and Claire Caton was a well-behaved Sorrow.
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