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Lyric Opera of Chicago, A ‘Butterfly that soars

Dwight Casimere | 2/11/2020, 9:03 p.m.
Lyric Opera of Chicago's current revival of its 2013 production of Puccini's Madama Butterfy is a performance that soars. With ...

Martinez, who has garnered international acclaim for her interpretation of Butterfly, brings a delicateness of physical demeanor and vocal expression that is someone imbued with a steely resolve. She clings to the hope of a real life with Pinkerton, even has she harbors a disconcerting attachment to a family heirloom, associated with her father's fall from grace and subsequent ritual suicide. Already, we know where this is going.

Vocally tentative is the opening arias, Martinez gained her footing quickly and used her silvery voice to full advantage in the opera's most famous dramatic arias. Lyric favorite and Washington National Opera veteran Deborah Nansteel brought a heartfelt realism to her role as Suzuki that served to emotionally ground the developing dramatic tension.

The scenes where Suzuki and Cio Cio San sit on a lonely mountain awaiting Pinkerton's return is packed with anticipation as conductor Nanasi leads the superb Lyric orchestra in some of the most beautiful music ever written for the opera.

Credit some sprightly performances by every member of the cast with making this a superlative effort. Anthony Clark Evans, the Lyric veteran, with 11 roles to his credit and a Ryan Center alum, brings a full-throated sense of irony to his pivotal role as Pinkerton's Man Friday, Sharpless. Bass-baritone David Weigel is in his second year as a Ryan Center member and will also appear in The Queen of Spades at Lyric later this season. He is fearsome as Bonze, the Buddhist high priest who denounces Cio Cio San for being a traitor her faith and her culture.

Ricardo Jose Rivera is commanding as the vainglorious Prince Yamadori, who also seeks Cio Cio San's hand in a contract marriage that is no less usurious. He too is is rebuffed by her stubborn and misguided devotion to Pinkerton.

Rivera, who is also a Puerto Rican born opera star, is a second year member of Lyric's Ryan Center as well. Lyric is to be credited for wearing cultural and color blinders in its casting policy. The stars of this Butterfly are shining examples its success.

Young Graham Macfarlane as Sorrow, Pinkerton and Cio Cio San's love child deserves a special mention for his composure and stoic portrayal in the midst of this sweeping drama in his Lyric debut.

Chorus Master Michael Black and choreographer August Tye and Wigmaster and Makeup Designer Sarah Hatten collectively rose to the height of their capabilities to make this a seamless undertaking.

Madama Butterfly is among Giacomo Pucciini's most beloved works. Its themes of cultural and sexual exploitation still, sadly, resonate to this day.

Complaints of cultural appropriation have haunted this opera since its less-than-enthusiastic premiere in 1904. There have been accusations throughout the decades that no non-Asian performer could adequately reflect the cultural conflict and emotional agony of the lead character. The performance on opening night makes the case otherwise. I'll let you judge for yourself. The next performance is Valentine's Day, Feb 14 at 7pm, followed by performances Monday, Feb. 27, Friday, Feb 21, Monday Feb. 24, Saturday, Feb. 29 and two matinees Wed. Mar 4 and Thursday March 5 at 2pm. Final performances are Saturday, Mar. 7 at 7:30pm and a matinee Sunday, Mar. 8 at 2pm. For information visit lyric opera.org.