The Dallas Opera: Hue Hi delivers definitive ‘Butterfly’

Madam Butterfly - 3-16-17
Madame Butterfly (Hue Hi) on her wedding day. (Dallas Opera Photo by KAREN ALMOND)

The Dallas Opera’s production of “Madame Butterfly” tops any I’ve seen – and I’ve seen plenty. The Giacomo Puccini classic opened last week to rave reviews for a reason. It’s simply the best.

Soprano Hue Hi, who sings the title role, will go down in opera history books as a definitive Butterfly. While she’s not 15 like Puccini’s heroine, she expertly conveys Butterfly’s innocence and charm. Her movements are also geared to the part. She flits around the stage during the first act, when she is betrothed to her American naval officer, Lt. B.J. Pinkerton.

Acting and stage presence are not always strong points with singers, but Hi’s stage skills are impressive.

And her voice?

Hi’s delivery of “Un bel di,” one of opera’s most recognizable  arias, is stunning, considering its placement deep into the performance. Hi is on stage – and singing – most of the two hour and 45-minute production.

As J. Robin Coffelt of Texas Classical Review said, “Hue Hi gave us a Butterfly for the ages.”

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Suzuki (Mauela Custer) comforts Madame Butterfly (Hue Hi). (Dallas Opera Photo by KAREN ALMOND)

Gianluca Terranova, an Italian tenor also making his TDO debut, is convincing as the thoughtless cad Pinkerton. His ability to command the stage is limited by short stature, but he was in fine voice at Sunday’s matinee.

 

Supporting Hi and Terranova are the exceptional Lucas Meachem (as the American consul Sharpless) and Manuela Custer (as the fiercely loyal servant Suzuki).

Though powerless to stop the impending tragedy, Meachem played Sharpless with plenty of empathy and a sense of guilt for being part of Butterfly’s arranged marriage.

Custer gave new life to Suzuki, doing her best to protect her mistress from shame and pending doom.

Don O'Neal - TDO - 3-16-17
Cio-Cio San (Hue Hi) weds American naval officer Lt. B.F. Pinkerton (Gianluca Terranova) during The Dallas Opera’s current production of “Madame Butterfly.” (Dallas Opera Photo by KAREN ALMOND)

TDO’s orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Donato Renzetti, provided a solid launching pad for the singers, as they captured the nuances and delicate phrasing of Puccini’s lush score.

Alexander Rom, TDO’s incomparable chorus master, has once again prepared his troops well.

“The Humming Chorus,” sung offstage at the end of Act Two, Part One, is another highlight of this opera, and TDO’s singers were superb, even though they are offstage during their moment of glory.

Rachel Finney, daughter of Winnsboro natives Larry and Sherry Finney, said of her first operatic experience: “Equal parts tragic and beautiful, the performance left me deeply moved, gutted even. Butterfly’s raw and vulnerable hope was a thing to behold. The voices were strong and unwavering, much like Butterfly herself. This particular opera is everything that life is: jubilation, despair, denial, hope, regret, loss, sacrifice, courage.”

Of course, this is grand opera, so there is no happy ending. TDO’s finale left audience members weeping – some of us more than others – even though we knew what was coming.

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TDO - Isaacs
Geoffrey Sullivan Isaacs

If you go to “Butterfly,” try to catch Geoffrey Sullivan Isaacs’ pre-opera talk, given one hour prior to the performance in Hamon Hall. His passion for the art form is palpable, plus he tells great anecdotes and has a wicked sense of humor. He’s one of TDO’s most popular guest speakers. Isaacs is a critic for Theater Jones. You can find his reviews at http://www.theaterjones.com. He’s also a gifted composer and former singer. Get there early, as the lectures are popular and once all seats are taken, they close the doors.

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There are three more performances of “Madame Butterfly,” March 18, 24 and a matinee on March 26. Tickets begin at $19. Call the box office at 214-443-1000. The Winspear is located at 2403 Flora Street in the Arts District of Downtown Dallas.

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Don LeBlanc 2 - use this one
Don LeBlanc

TDO Chorus tenor Don LeBlanc (fourth from the left in the production photo above) will be in concert Sept. 3 at Winnsboro Center for the Arts, kicking off their second season of classical music.

“I fell in love with ‘Butterfly’ at the age of 17,” LeBlanc said of this opera. “To see the score come to life on the stage of the Winspear decades later is a dream fulfilled. Dallas Opera’s production of ‘Butterfly’ is among the finest ever performed.”

LeBlanc sang for a benefit at Tinney Chapel last year and the arts center is delighted to have him return to Winnsboro for an encore performance.

LeBlanc will be accompanied by Mary Dibbern, TDO’s music director of education and family programs.

Dibbern is also making her second appearance in Winnsboro. She accompanied bass Jared Schwartz during the classical series’ debut last fall.

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