OPERA NEWS - Madama Butterfly (7/9/15) & La Fille du Régiment (7/10/15)
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Madama Butterfly (7/9/15) & La Fille du Régiment (7/10/15)

NEW YORK CITY
Prelude to Performance | Martina Arroyo Foundation

THIS YEAR'S OFFERINGS by Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance at The Kaye Playhouse were Madama Butterfly (seen July 9) and La Fille du Régiment (July 10).  Soprano Brandie Sutton, who sang the role of Giulietta in the company’s 2013 Les Contes d’Hoffman, gave a stunning performance as Cio-Cio-San, demonstrating a sumptuous, mid-weight soprano with a finally honed sense of dynamics and phrasing. From her first offstage entrance, it was clear that the audience was in for a treat. In fact, her delayed appearance built suspense effectively, as the audience waited to put a face to the voice. More hopeful than naïve, more girlish than coy, Sutton came into her own in Act II with a luminous “Un bel dì vedremo” and from there on, she was fully immersed in Butterfly’s inner emotional life. She had an ideal scene partner in Hyona Kim, whose Suzuki was just as impressive. While Cio-Cio-San queried Sharpless about the season of the robin’s eggs, Kim’s facial expressions communicated the conflict between Suzuki’s love for Cio-Cio-San and her grasp of Pinkerton’s betrayal. Kim also sang with a warm, beautifully modulated mezzo. Unfortunately, Taehwan Ku’s Pinkerton provided little in the way of romantic effusion. Both his physical presence and his singing were wooden, although the role is vocally suited to him. Alexander Lee’s Goro was an obsequious busybody, and he sang with a clean, bright tenor and Italianate style. As Sharpless, Young Kwang Yoo provided a sturdy, empathetic presence and a fine-grained baritone. Hangzhi Yao made a fearsome Bonze, while Alexander Boyd contributed a noble Yamadori. Kate Pinkerton doesn’t sing much, but Lindsay Mecher established herself as a kind and observant presence, actively assessing the undercurrents around her. Director Gina Lapinski incorporated Dolore (a precious Akari Wientzen) into the flower duet, allowing him to help the ladies dress the room, which made the final tableau all the more wrenching.

LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT fielded a more vocally accomplished cast overall, led by Spencer Hamlin’s rock solid Tonio. The apple-cheeked Hamlin was the perfect picture of a Tyrolean peasant, with a scintillatingly smooth leggiero tenor. The nine high Cs in “Ah, mes amis” seemed to offer no problem, and he also delivered a lovely, heartfelt “Pour me rapprocher de Marie.” His silvery tone melded appealingly with the bronze hue of Maria Fernanda Brea’s Marie. Brea was all cheerful, sunny energy in Act I, rallying her boys with glittering coloratura and tireless high notes. Although her characterization was painted with a broad brush, her “Il faut partir” was sincerely delivered. Rather than using the second act voice lesson aria as an opportunity for vocal showmanship, director Laura Alley drew a truer interpretation by having Brea start hilariously off pitch and then use the runs to torment Karolina Pilou’s majestic Marquise. Pilou wielded her monumental mezzo to winning comic and dramatic effect, and she boasted the most idiomatic French in the cast. 

The smaller roles were all extremely well sung. John Callison incorporated just the right amount of silly fussiness as Hortensius, while Tommy Petrushka made a brotherly Corporal. Jacopo Buora’s entertaining Sulpice was all limbs, eyebrows and bewilderment. Legendary soprano Lucine Amara enjoyed herself tremendously as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, and the audience responded with enthusiastic admiration. Meganne George’s sets were more basic and suggestive than functionally elaborate, while Charles R. Caine’s costumes provided the color and visual interest. The orchestra fared better in the less string-heavy Donizetti under Imre Palló than under Willie Anthony Waters for the Puccini. The chorus sang with energy both nights, but had more opportunities for engagement in the Donizetti. —Joanne Sydney Lessner

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