If you've never seen an opera, you should see "Madame Butterfly." Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's moving story — along with Rogue Opera's great cast — delivers the goods.
"For decades now, 'Madame Butterfly' is consistently among the top 10 operas performed worldwide," says Igor Vieira, who directs Rogue Opera's production.
What: "Madame Butterfly"
When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5
Where: Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford
Tickets: $22, $35 or $47; $20, $32 or $43 for ages 60 and older; and $10, $12 or $20 for ages 21 and younger
Information: Call 541-779-3000 or see www.craterian.org
"It was originally written as a play by an English playwright named David Belasco," Vieira says. "When Puccini saw the play in London in 1900, he was so moved by the story that he bought the play's rights from Belasco and created his opera."
Rogue Opera will present "Madame Butterfly" at 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. It will be sung in Italian, and there will be English supertitles.
Tickets cost $22, $35 or $47; $20, $32 or $43 for ages 60 and older; and $10, $12 or $20 for ages 21 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.
When Puccini debuted his opera in 1904 at La Scala in Milan, Italy, it was a total failure, Vieira says.
"No one liked it," he says. "So Puccini took it away and rewrote it. It opened again three years later as a humongous success."
Even so, Puccini rewrote "Madama Butterfly" three more times before arriving at what is called the "standard version." From its rocky start it has gone one to become one of the most popular operas ever written, performed 842 times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City alone, Vieira writes in his program notes.
Set in the early 1890s in Nagasaki, Japan, "Madame Butterfly" tells the story of handsome U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton, who marries an innocent, young geisha, Cio-Cio San, known as Butterfly, and then abandons her to return to service and his country. When he returns three years later, Cio-Cio San, who has born a son by him, is overjoyed to be reunited. The drama takes a tragic turn when she learns that Pinkerton is married to an American woman.
Soprano Christina Kowalski sings the role of Cio-Cio San and tenor Jon Farmer sings Pinkerton.
"Both of them have performed these roles before," Vieira says. "Christina is musically artistic, very believable in the role, and she's a dream to work with. Her character is on stage throughout most of the production, so the role is demanding, both physically and vocally."
A native of Germany, Kowalski earned her master's in music and drama at Frankfurt University, where she performed at the Frankfurt Opera Studio. She made her U.S. debut in 2000 as Marzelline in Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the Mark Theater in Portland. Since then, she has performed for opera companies throughout the Northwest too numerous to name.
"The child playing the role of the young son is actually Christine's own son, Cameron," Vieira says. "He brings so much more to the role. Each time Cio-Cio San cries over her son, she can actually relate to losing him. As an actor, Cameron (age 4) is a fantastic little guy," Vieira adds. "He obeys direction and has an instinctive way of playing the character. He's a total natural."
Farmer also hails from the Northwest, working with Seattle Opera, Kitsap Opera and others.
"He has a large, exciting voice," Vieira says. "Though the opera is centered on the role of Butterfly, and Pinkerton is the villain because he abandons her, he is doing a fantastic job as a singer."
The cast also includes mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn as Suzuki, Cio-Cio San's maid; baritone Barry Johnson as Sharpless, the U.S. consul at Nagasaki; tenor Galen Schloming as matchmaker Goro; and bass Michael Flaherty as Cio-Cio's uncle, the Bonze.
Martin Majkut will conduct the Rogue Opera orchestra for the production.
Vieira, born and raised in Brazil, is based in San Francisco, where he works as a singer and director for "just about every opera house in the bay area," he says.
He played Dulcamara in Gaetano Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" in 2011 for Rogue Opera. He's performed the role of Sharpless in "Madame Butterfly," but this is the first time he's directed it.
"The focus of my career is singing," Vieira says. "I love to direct, but it is not my main course. Directing is a fulfilling and complex process. As a singer, I hope that someday I can perform with the Metropolitan Opera, but I can't complain, because my career has been a successful one."