Madama Butterfly

While we have been assured that there was no intended political statement in Opera Colorado adopting the practice of rendering "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the season opening performances of Madama Butterfly, the irony resounded throughout the hall. Just days after the nation soundly rejected the "imperial" presidency of George W. Bush, and the gun-boat diplomacy that goes with it, General Director Greg Carpenter responds with a "patriotic" call. There may have been a Air Force flyover as well, though we couldn't determine this from inside the hall.

"Patriotism in its simplest, clearest and most indubitable meaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary aims, and a renunciation of human dignity, common sense, and conscience by the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold power. That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery." --Leo Tolstoy

Americans knew this once—as attested by the judgment at Nuremburg, which denied the validity of "My country right or wrong" as an excuse for atrocities by the Nazis and presumably for us as well. What we saw this week at the polls was not patriotism, but an affirmation of the ideals for which this nation stands.

Part of the transformative challenge that we face is a re-evaluation of war-for-profit policies that have been dictated for some time by corporate interests. There is nothing particularly radical in such a point-of-view, indeed many former U.S. Presidents agree:

"I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country --Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Logan, 1816

"Corporations have been enthroned. An era of corruption in high places will follow ... until wealth is aggregated in a few hands ... and the Republic is destroyed." --Abraham Lincoln, after the National Banking Act of 1863 was passed.

"This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations." --Rutherford B. Hayes.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." --Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Speech

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson." --President Franklin D. Roosevelt, November 21, 1933.

So, Opera Colorado's production of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly, an opera that captures the tragic personal repercussions of American imperialism, could not be more timely, as a new administration begins to evaluate the overhaul of the world financial system, two current U.S. wars, and the incarceration of foreign nationals at Guantanamo and certain secret torture sites throughout the world.

Adina Nitescu as Madama Butterfly and Michael Fabiano as Pinkerton
Adina Nitescu as Madama Butterfly
and Michael Fabiano as Pinkerton
Photo: Matthew Staver
Director Ron Daniels, a theatre veteran turned successful opera helmer, finds a straightforward, yet elegant, arc through the peerlessly constructed material. The principal voices, led by the powerful and soaring soprano of Adina Nitescu, as Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly), and accompanied by a sonorous Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Stephen Lord, make for a thrilling evening. Nitescu's dramatic talents come to the fore in her luminous opening aria, Ancora un passo ("One step more"), the stratospheric highs of which set up the depths of the tragedy.

Other than the opening pomposity, only a few of choices distract from the overall excellence of the production, principally a truncated final scene, where Butterfly dies without the physical discovery by Sharpless and Pinkerton, robbing us of the coda, the too-literal visitation of the U.S. battleship, which detracts from the sublime nature of Butterfly all-night vigil and the panoramic tableau, the plainness of some of the costumes, particularly Pinkerton's virtually undecorated uniform, and, finally, the seemingly anachronistic and clunky Western brass bed.

Adina Nitescu as Madama Butterfly
Adina Nitescu
as Madama Butterfly
Photo: Matthew Staver
Michael Fabiano, as Pinkerton, is neither as arrogant as some nor as shattered as others (again, that missing appearance at the end), but his tenor is strong and compliments Nitescu's commanding instrument. Anthony Michaels-Moore's rich baritone and conciliatory presence makes for a memorable Sharpless. Maryann McCormick's warm mezzo and protective aura lends gravity to Suzuki, Butterfly's maid.

Michael Yeagan's Zen-inspired calligraphy and landscapes on the rice-paper walls, provides graceful authenticity to the setting; Chris Maravich's subtle lighting gradations underscore the broad palette of moods painted by the composer and the librettists.

Remaining performances of Opera Colorado's Madama Butterfly on November 11, 14, and 16 are sold out. Some unused tickets may become available. 303-357-ARTS.

Bob Bows


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