“Madama Butterfly” has its Wagnerian influences, and those were the one that the L.A. Opera chose to explore with its latest offering of the Puccini warhorse. Here’s a Cio-Cio-San (Oksana Dyka) who regularly sings Aida and a Pinkerton (Brandon Jovanovich) who just added Lohengrin to his repertory. They may not have added up to the definitive “Butterfly,” but they sure made for a big and often vocally spectacular one.
Yes, Cio-Cio-San is the 15-year-old Japanese girl who is sold into marriage with a callous American naval officer. She’s young, fragile and vulnerable, but like a lot of Puccini’s other heroines, she’s also a total obsessive. And it is that obsession for a man she hardly knows that Dyka showcases. That single-minded drive is also there in the music, beginning with the act-one love duet that owes more than a little to “Tristan und Isolde,” and continues to the end with Cio-Cio-San’s very showy suicide. Here’s a scorned woman who doesn’t wait for her child and deserter husband to leave, but takes her life while they’re both still on the premises. Why has no one ever written a followup opera about what happens to that kid?
Like many big-voice singers, both Dyka and Jovanovich took a while to get their voices fully undercontrol and to settle into the music. Dyka was especially successful in the long second act on occasionally paring down her voice to at least give an indication of the character’s innate youth and femininity.
The production, borrowed from San Francisco Opera, is simple and stylish with (of course) lots of sliding screens, which, in act two, show Cio-Cio-San’s increasing impoverishment. Money, or the lack thereof, propels this story, and under Ron Daniels’ astute direction, Pinkerton is always ready with a tip in a household of mercenary players.
Grant Gershon is the very supportive conductor.