Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Florida Grand Opera Presents
Madama Butterfly

Also see John's review of Yankee Tavern

Madama Butterfly ranks as number one in Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America, and is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire of companies around the world.  Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.  Puccini based his opera in part on the short story "Madame Butterfly" written in 1898 by John Luther Long and the novel Madame Chrysanthème written in 1887 by Pierre Loti. According to American scholar Arthur Groos, the opera was based on events that actually occurred in Nagasaki in the early 1890s.  

Puccini wrote five different versions of Madama Butterfly in all. The original version of the opera in two acts premiered on February 17, 1904 at La Scala in Milan, where it was very poorly received. On May 28, 1904 Puccini's revised three-act version opened in Brescia to critical acclaim. In 1906, Puccini wrote a third version, which was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1907, Puccini made several changes to the orchestral and vocal scores for his fourth version, which was performed in Paris. In 1907, Puccini made his final revisions to the opera in a fifth version, which has become known as the "standard version."  Today, the standard version is the one most often performed around the world, though the original 1904 version is occasionally performed as well.  

In Nagasaki at the turn of the current century, a local marriage broker named Goro arranges a marriage with a 15-year-old Japanese girl for Lieutenant Pinkerton of the United States Navy. The young lady, named Cio-Cio-San, is known as Madame Butterfly because of her graceful and timid nature.  The marriage contract and the accompanying rental agreement for a villa are presented to Lt. Pinkerton for use during the term of his service in Japan, with the condition that they both may be canceled with thirty days' notice.  When United States Consul Sharpless comes calling, he warns Pinkerton that such an arrangement invites tragedy.  The self-indulgent Pinkerton ignores the older man's advice, making it clear that he considers the wedding merely a game.  Despite the tender and loving heart of his Japanese bride, he plans to be married legitimately someday in the United States to an American woman.  When Cio-Cio-San denounces her religion and turns to Christianity in deference to her new husband, she is declared an outcast by her entire family.

The scenic design for the Florida Grand Opera production is cleanly executed and true to its simple Japanese style, though more vibrant colors would have added a graciousness to the set.  The orchestra plays beautifully under conductor Stewart Robertson.  The ending instrumental moments of act two sweep over the audience movingly. The ensemble sings laudably, though they are inclined to stilted acting moments as they strive to achieve the look and feel of the period and location.

Katharine Goeldner as Susuki sings with admirable accuracy, though her throaty sound is not what one would chose to listen to for long periods of time.  Jake Gardner is a dashingly mature Sharpless.  His sound is warm and broad, only occasional hampered by a darkness to his voice he allows to creep in.  Sidney Outlaw as Prince Yamadori has an interesting sound and formidable voice. It is overly covered at times, however, and his diction becomes swallowed at times because of it.   Arturo Chacon-Cruz  is vocal perfection as Pinkerton!  His placement, timbre and diction is precisely what is called for in this role. His acting is a bit underdevelopedm however, and he does a bit of aimless pacing while singing.

Shu-Ying Li 's performance as Cio-Cio-San in act one is problematic. The first act shows a slight heaviness to her vibrato that actually is uneven. It is the sort of vibrato that one most be wary of with age. The harshness of her ceremonial wedding make-up and wig make her look older than the actor playing Pinkerton. While one does not expect the actress to actually be 15 as in the script, several references to Cio-Cio-San and her charming childlike ways seem inappropriately comical.  Ms. Li blessedly emerges in the second and third acts vocally free, with all signs of heaviness gone.  In addition, with virtually no makeup and hair down, she looks far younger.  It is clear that Shu-Ying Li is a fine actress whose skills carry the part even without her singing.  Her gift to this role is the nobleness with which she embodies Cio-Cio-San.

The Florida Grand Opera was formed in June 1994 by the merger of Greater Miami Opera, founded in 1941, and The Opera Guild Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, founded in 1945. Celebrating its 68th anniversary season of continuous performances, the Florida Grand Opera stands as one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Florida.  It is one of the four resident companies of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, making its home in the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House.  It has a rich history of presenting internationally acclaimed artists such as Robert Merrill, Dorothy Kirsten, Richard Tucker, Renata Tebaldi, Roberta Peters, Franco Corelli, Renata Scotto, Montserrat Caballe, Jon Vickers, Sherrill Milnes, Nicolai Gedda, Birgit Nilsson, Anna Moffo, Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Evelyn Lear, James Morris, Diana Soviero, Justino Diaz, Simon Estes, Elizabeth Futral, Helen Donath, Deborah Voigt, Fernando de la Mora, and Mary Mills. Luciano Pavarotti made his American debut in 1965 with the company's production of Lucia di Lammermoor.

In addition to producing standard repertoire, the Florida Grand Opera also presents lesser known operas by great composers, as well as commissions of works of living composers.  The Florida Grand Opera offers several highly successful outreach and educational programs, including its internationally recognized Young Artist Studio Program. The program attracts young singers who train and enhance their professional skills during a 35-week residency. Each year, the young artists tour the Miami-Dade and Broward County Public Schools in a fully staged opera production, reaching 50,000 students of diverse backgrounds. In addition, the young artists perform and cover lead roles in the main-stage productions.

Florida Grand Opera presents five main-stage productions annually in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, and at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.  For more information on the Florida Grand Opera you may reach them at their Miami Administrative Office & Ticket Office at the Doral Center 8390 NW 25th Street Miami, FL 33122-1504 Admin Tel: (305) 854-1643 Fax: (305) 856-1042 Ticket Office: (800) 741-1010.  

This presentation of Madama Butterfly is a production of Opera de Montreal, with Fort Lauderdale performances sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Ben Harrison, and the appearances of Shu-Ying Li and Adina Aaron sponsored by Northern Trust.  Performances of Madama Butterfly at the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, were April 25 and 29, May 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 9, 2009.  Performances at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were May 14 and 16, 2009.  For information or to purchase tickets for the many diverse offering of the Arsht Center, you may contact them at 305-949-6072, or visit them at  For tickets and/or information on the many diverse offering of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them at 954-462-0222 or online at

Cast at the performance attended:
B.F. Pinkerton: Arturo Chacon-Cruz
Goro: Jeffrey Halili
Suzuki: Katharine Goeldner
Sharpless: Jake Gardner
Cio-Cio-San: Shu-Ying Li
Imperial Commissioner: Sidney Outlaw
Bonze: Carlos Monzon
Prince Yamadori: Sidney Outlaw
Kate Pinkerton: Kate Mangiameli  

Director: Bernard Uzan
Conductor: Stewart Robertson
Chorus Master: John Keene
Set Design: Robert Oswald
Lighting Design: Gordon W. Olson
Costume Design: Anibal Lapiz
Wig/Makeup Design: Chris Diamantides
Stage Manager: Jennifer N. Cook  

Photo: Deborah Gray Mitchell

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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