By Nino Pantano
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the cold, snowy evening of Saturday, Dec. 29 at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in Manhattan, anyone who ventured out was richly rewarded. This was the finale to the saga that started out in 2009 when the first planned performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in Central Park by the New York Grand Opera (NYGO) was rained out. Each scheduled performance at the Central Park venue was rained out -- a total of four summers. The first church attempt fell victim to Hurricane Sandy and was changed to Saturday, Dec. 29. The sixth attempt materialized and went on despite the icy weather.
The ever debonair Development Director of NYGO, David Dubin, joyously announced to the audience of several hundred who defied the elements, that the spell was broken.
From the opening measures, we knew that the splendid orchestra was well tuned and that under Maestro Vincent La Selva’s magical baton, this magnificent score was finally about to unfold in a “free to the public” performance.
Benjamin Sloman was in brilliant tenor voice as Lt. Pinkerton. From the opening phrases of “Amore o Grillo” in which he praises his homeland and his future American wife to the theme of the Star Spangled Banner, we knew we were in for a vocal treat. His climactic high “C” at the finale of the love duet “Oh Quanti Occhi Fisi” was right on the mark and his final “Addio Fiorito Asil” was truly remorseful and flooded the church with torrents of golden sound. His closing cries of “Butterfly” were unforgettable.
Japanese soprano Akemi Baba was the tragic Cio-Cio-San and after waiting for Pinkerton through five performances that were cancelled, she finally got the chance to make it happen. With the help of Roberto Stivanello’s brilliant costumes and her petit and youthful appearance, she was the most visually compelling Butterfly in memory. Ms. Baba’s entrance aria “Ancora un Passo” was a blaze of color with the radiant costumes of Butterfly’s attendants and their multi colored graceful folding umbrellas. Her voice is as delicate as the flowers strewn in the flower duet revealed a piquant loveliness. She gave her all in the love duet with tender vulnerability as Pinkerton picked her up in his arms and carried her off to their bedchamber.
The haunting Act Two aria “Un Bel Di” where she insists that Pinkerton will return to her and her “Sai Cos Ebbe Cuore” in which she tells of a fate without Pinkerton, was all fragility and defiance. Her final “Tu, Tu Piccol Idio!” was sung with heartbreak.
Carolyn Wade was a rich voiced Suzuki and she shined in the flower duet and in her sad singing of “Povero Butterfly,” her mellow mezzo was warm and ingratiating.
Sharpless was in the strong vocal hands of baritone Kevin Grace. His manly penetrating tones in duet and the closing trio were exceptional as was his “Diavolo Pinkerton” utterance at Butterfly’s plight. Mr. Grace was a sympathetic Sharpless, whose character was etched in subtle but unbearable pain.
Veteran tenor William Brooke was a chameleon-like Goro and performed his many tasks with wit and brio. Jan Dash rendered his warm and reassuring bass as both the Imperial Commissioner and the frustrated Prince Yamadori.
Michael Roos’s baritone served well as the registrar. Cristina G. Diaz was adorable as Butterfly’s baby “Sorrow” in her debut with the company. Soprano Victoria Miningham was a radiant and lovely Kate Pinkerton. Ms. Miningham’s few lines of singing were pleasing.
Steven Fredericks sang a fierce Bonzo, his stentorian bass easily cutting through the large orchestra.
The chorus under the direction of Jan Dash sang hauntingly. The stage direction by Roberto Stivanello flooded the stage area with precision and color and the costumes were magnificent and eye catching. The finale with the dying Butterfly dying with arms outstretched as Pinkerton cries her name was touching and perfectly staged.
La Selva brought out all the beauty of this glorious score and to see him up close keeping everything together is in itself a marvel. He is also the Artistic Director as well as the founder of the New York Grand Opera since 1973. Under his leadership, the NYGO Orchestra is truly a world class ensemble. Kudos to first violinist Gino Sambuco and all the splendid musicians.
The lead trumpeter, Richard “Dick” San Filippo, was my classmate at P.S. 201 in Dyker Heights back in the late 1940s, when I was “The Boy Caruso” of Brooklyn appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV show and the Ted Mack Amateur Hour show and he was already a virtuoso on the trumpet. Bravo Richard!
January 3, 2013 - 6:07pm