There had been promise, at least on paper: two world-class operatic luminaries in their company debuts, deployed on John Gunter's attractive hillside set under a Nagasaki sky nicely lit by Duane Schuler. But the visual problems presented by Catherine Malfitano's Cio-Cio-San (a.k.a. Butterfly) and Luis Lima's Pinkerton were seldom offset by vocalism of more than utility grade.

There had been promise, at least on paper: two world-class operatic luminaries in their company debuts, deployed on John Gunter’s attractive hillside set under a Nagasaki sky nicely lit by Duane Schuler. But the visual problems presented by Catherine Malfitano’s Cio-Cio-San (a.k.a. Butterfly) and Luis Lima’s Pinkerton were seldom offset by vocalism of more than utility grade.

TX: TX:The Los Angeles Music Center Opera presents Giacomo Puccini’s two-act opera, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on David Belasco’s play. Conductor, Richard Buckley; production by Ian Judge, restaged by Christopher Harlan; Both singers,after all, were born in 1948, a fair span of years for the depiction of a 15-year-old ex-geisha and her callow youth of an American wooer.

Hailed worldwide for a repertory of roles extending from bitch-goddess Salome to the fragile Mimi, Malfitano’s Butterfly was at least a triumph of illusion over reality, her sweetly elegant phrasing — marred on opening night, however, by a startling array of squeezed or misdirected high notes — giving the lie to her rather matronly presence. Director Christopher Harlan’s blocking on the raked stage did what it could to cancel out the reality of a Butterfly looming over a diminutive Pinkerton (whom the libretto has her describing at one point as “strong and tall”).

TX:At the start general director Peter Hemmings announced that at least 12 company members had come down with some kind of respiratory ailment, that Suzanna Guzman’s Suzuki would yield to Tihana Herceg, and that Rodney Gilfry would go on as Sharpless as scheduled but craved forbearance. Among the lesser roles, Louis Lebherz’s brief scene as the outraged Uncle-Priest was one of the opera’s stunning moments. TX:There were few of those, however, as the music chugged along under Richard Buckley’s unadventurous musical direction.

Madama Butterfly

Production

Madama Butterfly (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 3,201 seats; $ 120 top)

Crew

Sets, John Gunter; costumes, Liz da Costa; lighting, Duane Schuler. Opened, reviewed May 21; runs through June 7. Running time: 2 hours, 55 min.

With

Cast: Catherine Malfitano (Cio-Cio-San), Luis Lima (B.F. Pinkerton), Tihana Herceg (Suzuki), Rodney Gilfry (Sharpless); Beau Palmer, Andrea Trebnik, Lesley Leighton, Agostino Castagnola, Donna Marie Covert, Daniel Ebbers, Louis Lebherz, Tod Fitzpatrick, Laurinda Nikkel, Ayla Kell, Dean Elzinga. (In subsequent performances Suzanna Guzman sings Suzuki and John Atkins sings Sharpless.) A butterfly with clipped wings, however beautiful, cannot soar. The Los Angeles Opera's seasonal finale, fourth time around for Puccini's mellow tear-jerker over the company's 10-year span, was similarly afflicted.
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