The COC’s production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not a huge Madama Butterfly fan and it takes a really good production and a really good performance to get me past my instinctive dislike for a libretto based on child rape and sex tourism backed by Puccini soup with an infusion of Mikado. This production, being revived for the umpty umpth time (It dates back to the Brian Dickie era) just wasn’t that. Director Brian Macdonald writes in the programme “We both (he and Dickie) had had experience at the Stratford Festival. That meant wood, simple props, no decoration that wouldn’t bespeak the essence of the play”. Throw in an Allen key and it would sound like a trip to IKEA. Which is pretty much what the designs are like; clean, functional and inoffensive. Throw in costumes and gestures straight from the Mikado and you have it. Not bad. Just meh.
The performances were OK too but not really special. The standouts were Stefano Secco as Pinkerton and Liz DeShong as Suzuki. Secco made the most of this unpleasant part with some ringing high notes, elegant phrasing and generally impressive Italian tenor qualities. DeShong was very pleasant to listen too, especially her rather smoky lower register. Her acting was pretty decent too. Patricia Racette’s Butterfly is, I think, rather a matter of taste. She goes big in both vocal and acting style. Her gestures are highly theatrical and the voice is powerful though the vibrato widens rather further than I find comfortable when she pushes. It’s not really my thing but it would, I suspect, be near ideal for many Puccini fans. The rest of the cast was decent. Julius Ahn was a serviceable Goro and Dwayne Croft was a competent, if slightly anonymous, Sharpless. Robert Gleadow made a brief appearance as the Bonz; menacing as ever, and quite a contrast to his Pistola the night before. The rest of the roles were taken by members of the Ensemble Studio or the Chorus. So main stage debuts for Iain MacNeil and Karine Boucher plus cameos from Gordon Bintner, Clarence Frazer Lilian Kilianski, Karen Olinyk and Alex Pomeroy. Patrick Lange conducted competently enough.
This production is double cast with Kelly Kaduce, Andrea Carè, Greg Dahl and Michael Colvin replacing Racette, Secco, Croft and Ahn for half the performances. It will be interesting to see if that changes the chemistry. Madama Butterfly runs at the Four Seasons Centre until October 31st.