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MADAMA BUTTERFLY at Regal 16 is high class tear-jerker

THE BASICS: Now in its 10th season, “Metropolitan Opera Live in HD” broadcasts continue in thousands of movie theaters around the globe, and one of those is right here in Buffalo – the Regal 16 on Elmwood Avenue. So, go in jeans, balance a bag of popcorn and a soda in your lap, and experience the finest artistic expression on the planet. And this Wednesday evening’s re-broadcast (Saturday it was actually live) tape delayed by four days is one of the best of the best in that 10-year history.

THE METROPOLITAN OPERA: MADAMA BUTTERFLY ENCORE airs on the big screen at the Regal Elmwood Center 16 at 2001 Elmwood Ave Buffalo, NY 14207 this Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m. Sung in the original Italian with excellent English subtitles. Run time (including two 20 minute intermissions) is 3 hours 40 minutes. Adults $24, Seniors $22, Children $18.

Go in jeans, balance a bag of popcorn and a soda in your lap, and experience the finest artistic expression on the planet.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Perhaps you’ve seen Miss Saigon, described as “a hyperventilated rewrite” of Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” but isn’t it time to experience the real thing? This opera is the story of a young American Navy Lieutenant, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, stationed in Nagasaki, who rents a house and pays for an arranged marriage with a 15-year old geisha. To him, this is a convenient way to enjoy his comfort while in port. To her, this is true love, so much so that she renounces her doubting/scolding family and even her childhood religion. But soon Pinkerton leaves her to return to the states. And for those three years Cio Cio San, whom others call “Madama Butterfly” but who now calls herself “Mrs. B.F. Pinkerton” raises the son of whom Pinkerton is unaware and looks out over the harbor for his ship to return. He does return to Japan three years later with his “real wife, an American wife,” to tragic consequences.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Along with Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” usually any Puccini opera is a good “first” opera, and of those, I would say “La Boheme” or “Madama Butterfly” pack the biggest emotional punch. I haven’t reviewed a Met broadcast before here, but this production is so special that, if you’ve been curious about these operas in HD, it is well worth the ticket price. And since there is a Buffalo connection (it’s at the Regal Elmwood 16) you should go.

Adding to the thrill, the Metropolitan opera has cast a stunning new soprano star named Kristine Opolais in the role of “Butterfly”.

To purists, opera is all about voice. Period. And, if you listen to the radio broadcasts live from the Met (Saturday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) you only get the voice. But grand opera is also a spectacle. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, all combine for a magical moment. Adding to the thrill, the Metropolitan opera has cast a stunning new soprano star named Kristine Opolais in the role of “Butterfly”. Her big breakthrough was a few seasons ago when she filled in as “Mimi” in another popular Puccini opera “La Boheme” (the original “Rent”).  What a voice.

opolais 1Now, for a number of years now there has been heated discussion in the opera community whether roles, especially female roles, are cast “as they should be” with the best voices, or, with the advent of HD broadcasts, whether the cast should also be photogenic. Well, the MET has assembled a collection of singers who both look good and sound good. Ms. Opolais looks beautiful, she sounds even better, and she can really, really act. She is so believable; she will tear your heart out.

Opposite her, and her equal in the voice/looks/acting department is veteran Roberto Alagna as “B.F. Pinkerton.” While his voice was strained during the last MET LIVE IN HD broadcast as he filled in at the last minute for ailing colleague Jonas Kaufmann in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” here the old Alagna is back, smooth and charming as ever.

And the supporting roles are all equally strong, with “Suzuki” (Butterfly’s maid and faithful companion) sung by Maria Zifchak who has sung the role many, many times before. Similarly experienced, Dwayne Croft sings the role of “Sharpless,” the United States Consul in Nagasaki. Actually, I could go on because all of the roles were strong. Butterfly’s son, by the way, is a Bunraku puppet (manipulated by three puppeteers) that is fascinating and very convincing.

So what is so different about this “Butterfly?” But the big difference is that it’s an Anthony Minghella (Academy Award winning director) production and apart from the costumes, sets, lighting, etc. one has to believe that this movie legend had influence over the direction of the HD broadcast.  True, he died in 2008, but I have to believe that his vision (and perhaps pages of notes) guided this most recent broadcast. Over the years, as the MET has experimented with this or that director in the broadcast truck, there have been some hits but also some misses. Calling the camera shots during a live opera broadcast is very tricky. This was one of the best ever.

So, even though it’s not “live” (again, that was last Saturday) it’s almost as good and you should go.

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*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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