The Opera Company of North Carolina ’s stellar production of Giacomo Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly was an unforgettable experience vocally, dramatically and visually. All the singers in the cast, major and minor, offered satisfying performances, supported admirably by the excellent orchestra conducted by Mark Flint as well as stunning costumes and set designs that transported the audience into the culture of Madama Butterfly’s Japan.

The singers were uniformly excellent vocally and dramatically. The most appealing of these was soprano Angela Maria Blasi, whose beautiful lyric voice also possesses the dramatic power required to believably convey both the depth of Butterfly’s love for Lt. Pinkerton and their child, Sorrow, and her need to maintain her honor. Blasi makes her audience feel with her the conflict within her character between these two overwhelming forces and understand the personal tragedy resulting from it. From the beginning to the end of the opera Blasi’s great voice is at the service of the drama, especially in Act I, in Butterfly’s touching, highly expressive statements of unshakable belief in Pinkerton’s love; in Act II, Part I, when with all the beauty and pathos her superb lyric voice can evoke, she conveys both her unending love for him and her confidence that he will return for her and her child (“Un bel di vedremo”); and in Act II, Part II, when she realizes that he does not return her love and cannot claim their child as his. The final scene in which Butterfly takes her own life is riveting dramatically and vocally and is one long cry of pain, especially her expression of anguish in the long phrases and sustained high notes. This role is as exacting as any Puccini ever created, and Blasi reveals herself more than able to bring it to life.

Mezzo-soprano Robynne Redmon also gave a fine performance as Suzuki, Butterfly’s loyal maidservant. This kind of role is hard to play because the singer does not get many chances to show all her dramatic ability; she is not called upon to display wit or assist in clever plots to help her mistress and thus establish herself as a complex character of interest, such as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Instead, her dramatic importance is limited to responses to her mistress’ problems and her expressions of love for Butterfly and her child. In this capacity Redmon gives a believable performance; her warm, beautiful voice gives an honest expression of Suzuki’s feelings for the woman she serves so unselfishly, particularly in the final scene of the opera when Suzuki tearfully promises to tell her mistress news that will cause her great pain: that Pinkerton has betrayed the love Butterfly has for him by marrying an American woman. 

Tenor Adam Diegel offers a very believable portrayal of the predominantly selfish, shallow Lt. Pinkerton, who nevertheless has more emotional depth than he reveals most of the time. Diegel’s excellent dramatic voice is powerful and expressive, and capable of making the audience realize not only Pinkerton’s great selfishness and xenophobic nature but also his ability to feel true love for his Japanese bride and his sincere remorse at the knowledge that her love for him can cause her great pain. In Act I Diegel’s Pinkerton in his solo “Dovunque al mondo”(with its “Star Spangled Banner” motif) clearly shows through his vocal expression his scorn for Japanese customs and architecture and his enjoyment of a hedonistic lifestyle, even though he marries the naïve young Butterfly. He also reveals that Pinkerton does have at least one admirable character trait: he is capable of loving Butterfly, as he shows in “Vieni le sera,” his tender love duet with his Japanese bride. In Act II, Part II, Diegel again shows dramatically and vocally that Pinkerton is able to feel true remorse for his betrayal of Butterfly in the romanza “Addio, fiorito asil,” the best demonstration in the opera of his superb lyrical and dramatic capability.

The other singers in this production also turned in admirable performances, especially baritone Stephen Lusmann as Sharpless, the U.S. consul at Nagasaki; bass Seth Mease Carico as the Bonze; tenor Dean Anthony as the marriage broker Goro; and young Thomas Holmes as Butterfly’s child, Sorrow. The chorus in the wedding scene in Act I also sang well and, unlike many choruses, seemed comfortable on stage.

Note: This performance was given in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium.