Chasing a “Butterfly”

BY ELI JACOBSON

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” isn’t even one of my favorite opera, but I have seen five performances of it this season. Inclement summer weather precluded my seeing a sixth presented outdoors by New York Grand Opera.

Bleecker Street Opera, one of two companies continuing the Amato Opera tradition, presented a fully staged “Butterfly” for four performances in August in a church basement auditorium. Praise must go to conductor and musical director Richard Owen in leading 17 players in an expert reduction of Puccini’s score. Very little musical detail seemed to be lost, and the performance was lovingly shaped.

Director John Schenkel updated the period to the 1950s with Cio-Cio San a war bride. The spare settings included only sliding screens, floral arrangements, and a few lacquered tables and stools. Christina Rohm was a vocally strong Butterfly with a tireless upper register, and Joan Peitscher’s Suzuki was richly sung and moving in the final scene.

The men, as is usual with these smaller companies, were not on the same level as the women — pitch problems and rough attacks on high notes abounded. However, the intimacy of the space connected one with the performers and Puccini’s simple story of love and betrayal.

“Butterfly” says in the love duet that “we are people who are accustomed to small humble quiet things,” and it was in the intimacy, tenderness and modesty of this production that it touched the heart. Bleecker Street Opera returns in November with “The Saint of Bleecker Street” and in December with “Carmen.”

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