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Castleton Festival's 'Madama Butterfly'

Back at the Castleton Festival on Sunday afternoon, the performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly was very strong, with a combination of a no-expense-spared approach to set design (Erhard Rom) and costumes (Lauren Gaston and Jonathan Knipsher), plus a cast of singers well suited vocally for their roles. There was an ever-present Japanese attention to detail, from gorgeous kimonos with proper footwear, rice paper sliding walls, and a full moon that crossed the night's sky, to an historically accurate 45-star United States flag incorporated into the set. Technology was cleverly used to add motion while at times moving the plot forward, with projections on screened backdrops. Gentle waves of the Nagasaki Harbor, stars in the night sky, and the slow-evolving projection of Lt. Pinkerton's ship, "The Lincoln," returning from a distance were highly effective.

However, having quick motions cartoonishly projected behind the set, such as close-up waves of the sea or fluttery butterflies drew too much attention to what should just function as a backdrop. There were two extraordinary lighting changes (Tláloc López-Watermann) that occurred precisely with plot and musical shifts. First, from blue to gold with the striking of the gong, as the intense Bonze of bass-baritone Joseph Barron interrupted the Christian wedding party of Cio-Cio San. The second was the abrupt transition to red upon Cio-Cio San's seppuku (ritual suicide). This unsubtle programmatic approach to lighting allowed all in the audience an almost synesthetic experience.

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Conductor Bradley Moore, standing in for Castleton Founder Lorin Maazel, who was still indisposed, incited a focused inspiration from the orchestra, which was a great improvement from the Mozart opera the previous night. Soprano Ekaterina Metlova as Cio-Cio San sang with a warm, smooth voice with either tragic strength, sublime tenderness, or everything in between. Her approach to portamento (the elision of notes) could have been more creative as it became somewhat predictable. Tenor Jonathan Burton as Lt. Pinkerton sang with expressive fortitude and memorable high notes, while baritone Corey Crider as Consul Sharpless demanded the audience's ear with his commanding voice. Mezzo-soprano Kate Allen as Cio-Cio San's servant Suzuki was superb vocally, and a particularly good vocal match to her mistress. The opera ended with a blistering intensity.

This production will be repeated on July 11 and 20.

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