Steamboat Springs That a town the size of Steamboat can rein in people who have starred at the Met for its annual opera production is, obviously, impressive.
It's not such a huge leap then, for the show itself, Giacomo Puccini's tragic "Madama Butterfly" to be well beyond the quality of what you might expect to find in a high school auditorium.
For Sunday's matinee performance, the world-stage performance of lead Kara Shay Thomson was enough to leave behind the traces of local theater (there were some, but honestly, they were ignorable). As the love-struck and then grief-drowned Cio-Cio-San, Thomson's voice is fitting to an opera diva.
Strong supporting performances from David Malis (as the American consul Sharpless), Keith Miller (in a small, sort of comical role as The Bonze) and Kathryn Krasovec (as Suzuki, Butterfly's servant) gave Emerald City Opera's take on Puccini an expected "best thing the town has ever seen" glow. An unremarkable performance by Mark Thomsen (as a weakly projecting Lt. Pinkerton, Butterfly's love) was a drawback, but his character is unlikeable anyway.
Puccini is a great composer with a particularly deft hand for tragedy. And while "Madama Butterfly" is one of his most lasting works, you have to admit that the story is a bit odd.
Essentially, Pinkerton comes to Japan to find a wife he has no intention of staying with. She falls for him hopelessly and inexplicably. He leaves, and doesn't come back until he's got a "real," fair-skinned lady. Robbed of her dignity, Butterfly kills herself.
Puccini's understanding of Japanese and American culture are condensed into key tenets: Americans, greedy; Japanese, honor-driven.
You could argue here that the story in opera is not important. It's the soaring arias (Thomson does these with soul-shattering power) and rich orchestrations (done with near-professional quality by the Steamboat Springs Orchestra) that make opera something we dress up nice for and sit quietly through.
That argument would be wrong.
The stories are what make opera great - lying, cheating, clowns, love, loss, war, art, comedy, tragedy. Puccini's arias wouldn't be as glorious without the heartbreak.
And even if "Butterfly" isn't one of opera's strongest stories, Emerald City's performance of it is probably one of the town's strongest events.
- Margaret Hair