SARASOTA — For its fall season, Sarasota Opera has brought back one of its greatest hits with Madama Butterfly. Originally staged by the company in 2007, the production is an ideal representation of the Puccini favorite, which is packing them in at the opera house. Wednesday night's performance was sold out.
It can be special when a Japanese soprano has the title role, and so it proves to be in the performance of Asako Tamura (born in Kyoto). She is often marvelously moving as the 15-year-old geisha, Cio-Cio San, who marries a U.S. Navy lieutenant, only to be abandoned in her house on a hill overlooking Nagasaki Harbor. The caddish American, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, is sung by a Sarasota regular, Rafael Davila.
In the famous wedding night scene, Tamura, dressed all in white, was adept at communicating the deeply conflicted emotions of the bride, torn between the fear of rejecting her Japanese heritage and the joy of being in love. Davila, not the most nuanced of tenors, rose to the occasion in Pinkerton's simple, passionate music, the orchestra pulsating beneath his words.
Tamura was a petite, graceful presence, with nicely choreographed hand gestures, but her voice sometimes took on a hard edge. She is not the sort of soprano who will give Butterfly's poetic arias the delicate, floating quality that they really need. Still, her singing was strong, accurate and dramatic, and the sense of sadness she created at the end was profound.
Marco Nistico was a pleasure as Sharpless, the American consul, because he is an excellent actor and his light, conversational baritone is well-suited to Sarasota's intimate opera house. As Cio-Cio San's faithful servant, the gray-haired Suzuki, Nina Yoshida Nelsen captured the frantic desperation that pervades the final scene with her doomed mistress. Jeffrey Beruan was striking as the furious Bonze. Jamin Flabiano made an indistinct impression as marriage broker Goro.
The Sarasota production, directed by Martha Collins, has a fine sense of proportion. David P. Gordon's set for Butterfly's house and garden fits the stage beautifully. When the wedding party entered, the look of their costumes (coordinated by Howard Tsvi Kaplan), a pastel swirl of parasols, fans and kimonos, was eye-catching. Ken Yunker's lighting had moments of pure enchantment, such as when the sky turned lavender on the wedding night, or in the rosy pink dawn that materialized as Cio-Cio San stood vigil waiting for Pinkerton's return.
Artistic director Victor DeRenzi was in the pit to conduct the Sarasota Orchestra, which sounded good on Wednesday, but it lacked that final touch of finesse that comes from playing opera scores exclusively.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.