Poor Cio-Cio-San. First she falls for the fickle charms of US Naval Officer Pinkerton, even forsaking her family’s religion, Buddhism, to make herself a more suitable bride to the Westerner. When her handsome blonde boyfriend departs for America, she faithfully roosts in their lovenest awaiting his return, never suspecting that he intends to leave her in the lurch. Against the sunset-hued backdrop of pre-World War Nagasaki, Butterfly gradually realizes she’s been had and succumbs to her shame, eventually committing hara-kiri, a ritualistic Japanese suicide. The nickname Pinkerton has given her, “Butterfly,” becomes an overt metaphor for their relationship: He, the butterfly collector, is compelled to capture a thing of beauty and pin it to a board—nevermind that in the process, he’s stabbing the fragile creature in the heart.
Madame Butterfly opened last weekend at the Keller.
Click through the attached slide show to see Kelly Kaduce’s kimono-clad performance, or read on for Aaron Scott’s review.
Those who imagine opera as stationary fat ladies singing will be delightfully surprised by the level of acting in Portland Opera’s production of_ Madame Butterfly. _Kelly Kaduce’s performance as Butterfly is wonderful, as she shifts from the delight of a newly wed, to the self-delusional defiance of a righteous teenager when others say Pinkerton won’t return (one must remember she’s only 15 at the start), to her attempt at steadfast strength leading up to her honor suicide. And her soprano is clear and gorgeous, her song imagining Pinkerton’s return earning a roiling applause and an irrepressible shout of ‘Bravo!’ from the balcony.
Other highlights include John Hancock as Sharpless, the kind American consul left to clean up Pinkerton’s mess, and Kathryn Day as Suzuki, the protective, plodding maid, who expertly expresses the pathos of her character’s own tragedy: spending three years watching Butterfly cling to her dream, the whole while knowing the truth that Pinkerton will not return. And of course, an almost audible ‘awww’ seeps from the audience every time 3-year-old Finnegan Grab with his mop of brown hair runs onstage as Butterfly’s son (it’s a rare thing indeed to have a child actor the age of the actual character, and it lends a certain magic).
Clocking in at nearly three and a half hours, Madame Butterfly’s length creates almost a shared experiential empathy on the part of the audience: we sit an hour for every year she waits for Pinkerton. There’s a patience presumed that most contemporary plays and movies wouldn’t dare, particularly in the final movement of the second act, when Butterfly, her son, and Suzuki wait silently for Pinkerton, backs to the audience, the only action on stage for a number of minutes being the slowly changing quality of light as night falls (and the splendor of the lighting design on the artfully made set is action enough). But if you can channel Butterfly’s patience, the heart-wrenching beauty of her final song is certainly worth the wait.