I Cio-Cio-Choose 'Madama Butterfly'

Second opera in two months. Saw the Portland Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly this afternoon. Fun to go to a classy event in daylight, and still have daylight outside when it's done. The day still felt open, heart full of amusement and music!

I don't speak Italian, and am by no means classy, but I really liked the show. There are musical discernments I am far from being sensitive to, but Opera is sure-as-heck less daunting than I once thought. Plots are simple, and take forever to develop. But rapid plots are not opera's appeal. It's empathy and sensory experience.

Listening to live music can be superior to decades-old recordings. You're welcome for this free wisdom.The score to Madama Butterfly was less familiar than Carmen which I saw in late December. But while I've listened to Butterfly several times with good speakers and headphones, I was struck by how the music that comes across as cramped on a recording opens up with live orchestration. One thing to KNOW that, as most everyone who cares about music does, but another thing to EXPERIENCE that.

Voices were strong. The male lead character, B.F. Pinkerton, is a jerk who doesn't stick around. We're not supposed to like him, but I kept hoping he would break into Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird" to at least TRY to win us over.

As it was, when it was time for curtain call, the long-suffering Cio-Cio San (nicknamed Madama Butterfly) had just taken her own life before our eyes. When the performer who played Pinkerton, the man who led to Cio-Cio San's despair, took the stage a crescendo of applause was supported by an undercurrent of playful booing. Very funny. Singer smiled. Must be part of the role.

The production was more accomplished than the Eugene Opera's Carmen (though I liked that show, too, and like Carmen more than Butterfly). At the Eugene Opera I did not see a single illuminated cell phone screen as the lights came down. In Portland, bright rectangles were all over the place. So, point to Eugene for being classier!