Skip to main content
David Hirzel

Three great things about Golden Gate Opera’s “Madama Butterfly” (11/9/14)

By November 11, 2014No Comments

As is occasionally the case with my posts here, this one comes after the close of Golden Gate Opera‘s very short run of “Madama Butterfly” (two performances in one weekend, now ended) and can’t have much impact on filling seats. However, here are three things that made this performance particularly memorable.

1. Although the producer’s pre-performance comments from the stage included an apologia for a solo pianist (Andrew Dixon) filling in for the orchestra, this one fact, this substitution added instead a wholly unexpected and marvelous aspect. For some of us, especially us novices in the art of opera-appreciation, there is already almost too much going on for our brains to accommodate: a story of great drama told in a completely foreign language, superb acting in a uniquely operatic manner, beautiful vocal arias and duets, costume, staging, backdrop. . . . By taking out 39 pieces of orchestra, there is that much more mental capacity to take in all these others. For me, this was an enhancement, not a detriment.

2. The libretto in English was not posted for all to view. For reasons just cited, my brain was not distracted from the performance. Reading is reading, it is not watching, it is not listening, it is not feeling. This allows the philistine opera-goer’s mind to pay attention to the drama unfolding before him, rather than reading and then interpreting as the show goes along. By filling in the intellectual gaps with the content of his own imagination, the listener becomes a part of the creative process, in a way one with Puccini, and the singers. A much better way, I think, to absorb the story, the drama, and Puccini’s memorable, often familiar music.

3. While a full house was missed for this matinee, and thousands of potential audience missed their opportunity to enjoy this wonderful opera—“A True Story: A diary, a novel a play”—in masterful performance, right here in San Rafael, those who did come had a chance to meet the performers in the Green Room after the show. You just don’t get this everywhere.

Among those performers in the Sunday matinee (11/9/14) were Miwako Isano as a lovely and poignant Madama Butterfly, and Alexandra Jerinic as her faithful maidservant Suzuki. The friendship between these two characters is the cement that holds the whole opera together, no better shown than in the stunning duet that ends Act One. David Gustafson‘s Pinkerton was tender and loving on his wedding day, and passionately distraught holding his one-time bride as her sad life passed away. Special note also for the set, the backdrop scrim and the lighting showing the passage of dusk to dawn.

In having seen the opera, in this way, I find my life that much the fuller.

My suggestions to you:

1. If you have a chance to see this or any opera with less than a full orchestra, view it as an opportunity rather than as a loss, a chance to see the familiar an an entirely new light

2. A streaming libretto does not necessarily add to your understanding of the story or your appreciation of the show.

3. When you can meet the cast and crew, take advantage. There is much more to them, their lives and yours than the show you have must shared.


–Review by David Hirzel