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‘Madama Butterfly’

Opera Santa Barbara Performance Shines

Photo: Zach MendezEleni Calenos

The beautiful and timeless design of this Madama Butterfly made a splendid setting for the singers to shine, and for the orchestra and chorus to reveal the intricacies of Puccini’s exquisitely layered compositions. Harold Meers, as the handsome yet ugly American Pinkerton, managed to balance his character’s arrogance and insensitivity with a powerful romantic streak — just what was called for to lift this story of betrayal to the level of tragedy.

Eleni Calenos was magnificent in the challenging role of Cio-Cio-san. Does casting the role with a non-Asian performer in 2019 naturalize cultural appropriation? Or is Puccini among the first composers to offer a critique of cultural imperialism? The answer at this point is surely a qualified “yes” to both. Thanks to her rigorous yet stirring approach, Calenos brought the kind of tact and self-awareness to the role that will help it survive in the new century. Under the baton of maestro Kostis Protopapas, the orchestra poured forth a seamless cascade of sound, rendering the composer’s complex mash-up of styles and idioms seem almost natural. Luis Alejandro Orozco was a sterling Sharpless, and Audrey Babcock was an equally memorable Suzuki. The chorus added ravishing colors to the vocal palette, and no account of this charming production would be complete without mentioning young Max Wainwright’s turn as “Sorrow,” the young child of Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-san

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