Soviero shines in the lead of fine 'Madama Butterfly' Opera review

November 18, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the great spintos of our time, Diana Soviero is enormously affecting in the title role of Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," the Baltimore Opera's second production of the season, which runs through Sunday at the Lyric Opera House.

However, the production goes out of its way to make Lt. B. F. Pinkerton, who seduces and abandons the trusting Japanese geisha, into a very ugly American indeed.

Granted, Pinkerton is a cad. But he also must have enough boyish charm to justify Butterfly's single-minded and tragic loyalty.

French stage director Bernard Uzan's loyalty is entirely to Butterfly -- which is understandable in human terms, as he is married to Soviero. And after the inert "Romeo et Juliette" he directed here last season, it's good to see him involved with the story.

But he has coached tenor Joseph Wolverton into a boorish, smirking performance in which every avowal of passion is just formula, a device to hustle Butterfly off to the futon as quickly as possible. This ruins the luscious Act 1 love duet. Who, watching this performance, could credit Pinkerton as a lover? Or Butterfly, for that matter, as his wife?

Such a cartoon interpretation detracts not only from Soviero's serious, thoughtful and finely sung performance but also from Uzan's careful work with the rest of the cast. Goro, for instance, the mean little marriage broker, is played by tenor Douglas Perry (the original Gandhi in Philip Glass' "Satyagraha") with a wealth of detail: He fawns, he calculates, he even makes a joke, and he never becomes tedious. In all the times I've seen this opera, that's a first.

Suzuki, Butterfly's servant, is already well-drawn, but mezzo Yun Deng makes her a woman torn between Japanese tradition, common sense and affection for Butterfly.

Baritone Giuseppe Altomare sings Sharpless, the American consul, well enough but plays him as much too detached and fastidious.

Butterfly is Soviero's signature role, and she lives up to the richness of it. She is fragile with a will of steel, and we sense the undercurrent of doubt in her belief that Pinkerton will return -- which makes her unflinching love all the more human.

Soviero no longer tries to hold the last note of "Un bel di," but her acting was so committed that I didn't care. And the rest of the opera, musically, was quite beautiful -- a first-class performance, led by Joseph Rescigno.

Roberto Oswald and Anibal Lopez, the Argentine design team Uzan often employs at L'Opera de Montreal, have created a clean and delicate production of shoji screens and a bonsai cherry tree. But the cheesecloth frame around the action is a great mistake.

'Madama Butterfly' Opera

What: Baltimore Opera

When: 7: 30 p.m. Wednesday, 8: 15 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Tickets: $22-$100

Call: 410-727-6000

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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