Madama Butterfly soars; Debuts & Premieres continue for Tulsa Opera

By Glenda Rice Collins

Tulsa, Okla. USA–Contemporary updates to set designs and lighting brought enhanced relevance to the timeless story of commitment and deceit contained within the 1904 Giacomo Puccini opera classic, Madama Butterfly, and its sumptuous score.  A stellar cast, with several Tulsa Opera debuts, prevailed at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center last weekend. 

Tulsa Opera debuts were noted for both the starring soprano, Maria Natale, who warmed the role of the demure and trusting Cio-Cio San with both delicacy and determination; and her leading man–the blond, blue-eyed tenor Matthew White–who, in the role of the deceptive Lt. Pinkerton, USN, conveys an image more of the sensitive poet, than the military man.

Allowing for White’s attractive, current collar-length hairstyle. its easy to picture him on

Matthew White, tenor 2020

Tenor, Matthew White

the California beaches with his surfboard! According to his IMG Artists biography, White is not only a recent graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts, but also a violinist, and an avid surfer who runs his own surfboard business, with clients around the world.

His portrayal of the misleading man, Lt. Pinkerton, was convincing enough to elicit both applause and “boo-s” from the audience at curtain call — He mastered the role, albeit with subdued artistic sensitivity. Bravo!

Of Maria Natale, Opera News has proclaimed in the past, “Natale ruled the stage…thanks to radiant stage presence, merciless dramatic focus and…high voltage vocal thrills.” Such was the case, once again, for her Tulsa Opera debut as Cio-Cio San.  She is a brilliant, emotive and expressive actress with refined characteristics, understated when necessary. Brava!

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Maria Natale in her Madama Butterfly Tulsa Opera debut. Photo by Shane Bevel.

Both Natale and White brilliantly brought a dramatic combination of sensitivity and heightened awareness– both emotionally and vocally– to the Madama Butterfly arranged-wedding and tender love scenes within a story filled with markers of impending tragedy, during the opening night performance I attended last Friday.

While Cio-Cio San is destined to play the painful waiting game, the changing perceptions of her married life bring turmoil and unbearable losses. Through it all, her faithful servant, Suzuki, compassionately portrayed by the distinguished mezzo-soprano, Renee Rapier, sustains a comforting tone with riveting dramatic skill and character focus.

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Butterfly’s son, Dolore, is followed toward the sunset by Suzuki, her maid. Dolore was portrayed here by Charlie Osborn (Fri.) and Nolen Wagner (Sun.), with mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier as Suzuki –all in Tulsa Opera debuts. Lighting designer, Keegan Butler.  Photo by Shane Bevel. 

Standouts thus making Tulsa Opera return appearances include: Russian-American baritone Aleksey Bogdanov, as Sharpless, the dubious American consul; and versatile tenor Julius Ahn, in his Madama Butterfly signature role as Goro, the marriage broker of questionable morals. Japanese bass, Hidenori Inoue, a Tulsa Opera resident alumnus, returned to assume the overwhelming-uncle, Bonze, role. Current Tulsa Opera Filstrup resident artist, soprano Keely Futterer gracefully portrayed Kate Pinkerton.

Conductor James Lowe presided over the Tulsa Opera Orchestra with precision and flair.

Tenor Samuel White and baritone Alexander Boyd made memorable Tulsa Opera debuts as Prince Yamadori and the Imperial Commissioner, respectively–along with stage director John De Los Santos. Tulsa Opera artistic director is Tobias Picker.

“This production (originating at Houston Grand Opera) was originally conceived and directed by our friend and frequent collaborator, Francesca Zambello, artistic director of Washington National Opera, and artistic and general director of the Glimmerglass Festival,” noted Ken McConnell, Tulsa Opera general director and CEO.

Credits: Banner photo by Shane Bevel.

Tulsa Opera Upcoming Productions:

Emmeline

Friday, May 1, 2020 at 7:30pm
Sunday, May 3, 2020 at 2:30pm

Tulsa Opera presents world-renowned composer and artistic director Tobias Picker’s Emmeline in a new production set across the 1930s and 1950s.

Based on a true story and the book Emmeline by Judith Rossner, the opera tells the story of an American teenager who is forced to give her illegitimate child up for adoption, only to fall from grace when family secrets are revealed twenty years later.

Originally set in mid-nineteenth-century Maine, this world-premiere production by director Tara Faircloth updates the opera for a contemporary audience.

Composed by Tobias Picker
Sung in English with English supertitles

2020-21 Season

-Tulsa Opera’s 73rd Season-

Rigoletto

Friday, October 9, 2020
Sunday, October 11, 2020

Orfeo ed Euridice

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Awakenings

Friday, April 30, 2021
Sunday, May 2, 2021

For additional details, visit tulsaopera.com.

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