These thoughts were on my mind as I made my way to Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre on Saturday afternoon (October 11), to see poor Cio-Cio-San once again take one for the team.
The current production of Butterfly was built by the COC back in 1990. And I’m glad to say that Susan Benson’s sets and costumes have stood the test of time very well. Her elegant, pastel-hued tableau is a real asset to the COC’s inventory of productions worthy of remounting. And it was nice to see that Brian Macdonald, the director who first mounted the 1990 Butterfly, was back for the COC’s restaging.
The COC’s Cio-Cio-San, this time around, is the American soprano Kelly Kaduce. To be sure, she has a wonderful voice – clear, bright, focused, and bursting with emotion. Overall, her approach veered strongly in the Italian direction. From the start, her portrayal of the title role had a tight, edgy quality to it, headstrong and yet anxious. I’m not convinced that this was the best way to handle Act I – she lacked the naïve joy and innocence of a teenaged bride – but in the ensuing acts, she chewed up the scenery magnificently. Her death scene was shockingly dramatic.
Opposite her, as Pinkerton, Italian tenor Andrea Carè sang with a warm, smooth voice, and was generous with his stylish portamento. He successfully conjoined the American and Italian aspects of his role: a cheerful swagger followed by an outburst of bitter remorse.
The supporting cast supported well. Mezzo Elizabeth DeShong’s Suzuki was appropriately humble, caring and practical – and her well-balanced duet with Kaduce was a highlight of the show. Baritone Gregory Dahl was a vocally solid Sharpless, caught between his duty to protect American interests and his own sense of decency.
In the pit, conductor Patrick Lange and the COC Orchestra gave a smooth and sensuous reading of Puccini’s score – beautiful, to be sure, but sometimes at odds with the drama unfolding on stage.
In the end, this Butterfly wasn’t exactly “definitive,” in its attempts to reconcile the opera’s disparate elements. But it did offer much to admire and enjoy. There are many effective ways to present this opera – and the COC’s current production is certainly one of them.
© Colin Eatock 2014