For the penultimate production of its season,
the Regina Opera Company in Dyker Heights will stage a production
of Puccini’s tragic "Madama Butterfly," that is at
once traditional and unconventional.
Among Regina Opera’s many strengths, according to Francine Garber-Cohen, Regina Opera’s chairman and executive vice-president, is that audiences expect a staging faithful to the composer and librettist’s original intentions - and this "Butterfly," running March 15-16 and March 22-23, will be no different.
"It is a traditional staging that takes place in Japan: the characters wear kimonos and black wigs," Garber-Cohen explains, "and the music will be performed exactly as it was written: uncut and unchanged."
But here traditional does not mean slavishly conventional. Director Linda Lehr - who has been working with Regina Opera for several seasons, directing such repertory staples as "Tosca," "La Boheme," "Rigoletto" and "Carmen" - studied the history of Japanese theater, coming up with an idea that will be used in this production.
"Linda has added puppeteers, called ’bunraku,’ that are from traditional Japanese theatrical productions. Dressed in black costumes, they handle the props [handing Cio-Cio-San the knife for her suicide, for example]," Garber-Cohen says. "They will be acting, not singing, roles for three people, who are essentially performing in mime."
Puccini’s plot couldn’t be simpler. An American sailor, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, is married to the delicate young Cio-Cio-San, who believes he truly loves her. When he finally returns to Japan with his new American wife, Cio-Cio-San says goodbye to their young son and fatally stabs herself with her father’s knife.
Soap opera? Perhaps. Yet Puccini’s music - filled with authentic emotion, as all his scores were - makes these characters and their actions plausible, dramatic and heartrendingly tragic.
As usual for Regina Opera, talent and not racial homogeneity is the leading factor in casting the roles.
"We go based specifically on the person’s talent," Garber-Cohen notes. "We have cast people of various ethnic groups in our lead roles over the years - Korean-American, Japanese-American, Hispanic-American and African-American - because we cast the best singers who are available.
"When we did our recent ’Marriage of Figaro,’ the father was Caucasian, the mother was African-American, and Figaro himself was Japanese-American. The audience just loved it!"
Often, too, the casting is homespun.
"We use the finest Brooklyn singers all the time," Garber-Cohen says, and going down the cast list for this "Butterfly" bears him out. For the performances on March 16 and March 22, Deborah Anne Faw, of Carroll Gardens, and Peter Emery, of Park Slope, sing Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. (Carol Welker and Alejandro Olmedo handle the roles on March 15 and March 23.)
Additional Brooklyn voices, Sarah Blaze, of Park Slope, and Adrienne Metzinger, of Midwood, alternate as Kate Pinkerton, the sailor’s new American wife. One of the "bunraku" puppeteers, Katie Cohen, is also from Midwood.
The 14-year-old Cohen, who also sings in Regina’s chorus, is the daughter of Susan Carlson, flutist with the Regina Opera orchestra. That brings up another unique facet of Regina Opera: its unabashed, unapologetic nepotism.
"Since Regina Opera has been around for 33 seasons now," Garber-Cohen explains, "we’ve gotten to the point where we have second- and even third-generation performers.
"Both of the young boys who alternate playing Butterfly’s son have deep roots with Regina - both of Christopher Clark’s parents are regular players in our orchestra, and James Callaghan’s mother, Joan Callaghan, is one of our leading mezzo-sopranos. Also, Joan’s father, Sal Fontana, and uncle Frank Fontana sang with our company in the 1970s and 1980s."
This spring, the Regina Opera’s season ends with a flourish. On April 6, the Annual Gala Concert will be presented, as many of the company’s leading-role singers perform opera arias and ensembles by Verdi, Puccini and Mascagni, along with popular music and Italian and Neapolitan songs.
May 4 is the Swing Along Broadway Concert, with several Regina Opera soloists singing show tunes, including selections from old Broadway classics and contemporary Broadway songs.
Finally, the last of the season’s productions is Verdi’s "La Traviata," staged by Linda Lehr and conducted by Jose Alejandro Guzman, on May 31, June 1, June 7 and June 8.
Regina Opera presents "Madama Butterfly"
on March 15 and March 22 at 7 pm, and March 16 and March 23 at
4 pm, at Regina Hall, corner of 12th Avenue and 65th Street in
Dyker Heights. Tickets are $15; $10, college students and seniors;
$5, junior high and high school students; and free for children
For more information, call (718) 232-3555 or visit www.reginaopera.org on the Web.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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