When artistic director Darcia Prada had the fortitude to launch Edmonton’s Mercury Opera in 2008 with Pagliacci, onlookers wondered if there was room for two companies to thrive.
After all, Edmonton Opera had been the bastion of classical works since 1963 when it debuted with Madama Butterfly.
However, this new company has blazed its own trail with charismatic talent, strong direction and clever marketing that has created a loyal fan base.
Eschewing the stuffiness and formality so often associated with opera, the company sought to break down barriers with a more casual, man-on-the-street approach.
In this vein until Aug. 27, Mercury Opera presents Puccini’s great masterpiece, Madame Butterfly, at Giovanni Caboto Park under the al fresco charm of a tent.
In this production, an extension of the East Meets West Festival, Prada has re-imagined a scenario straight out of post-Second World War Nagasaki.
The fragile young geisha Cho Cho San, deeply in love with an infatuated Lieut. Pinkerton renounces her culture, family and religion to marry the sailor. When his ship leaves he promises to return.
“I wanted to update it,” says Prada. “Pinkerton is often depicted as a bad guy. I wanted to show a more human side. His choices are misguided but he’s been affected by the war. He’s a guy with a big ego. He’s in a position of power. In a way, he’s almost like a frat boy gone wrong.”
Three years later, Pinkerton does return with a new bride. While Pinkerton was away, Cho Cho San delivered a son and the arrival of his new wife shatters her dreams.
“She goes through a transformation from a little girl to a woman. She transforms from a chrysalis to a butterfly. She takes big risks. She ditches everything for love and it doesn’t have a good outcome.”
Japanese soprano Manami Hattori-Fallen is a compelling Butterfly. “She’s unbelievably graceful — the way she moves. Her interpretation is the perfect mixture of who she is and the character Butterfly. You add Puccini’s music and it’s a killer.”
American tenor Jeffrey Michael Hartman, as Pinkerton, auditioned for Prada by sending her a YouTube link. “His voice was huge, but really expressive. Even his high notes were full, rich and big. He’s a great singer and you don’t see that kind of voice very often.”
But the continued success of Madame Butterfly has come to rest on an incredible combination of elements — an exceptionally strong libretto, powerful drama, bold characters and an unequalled score.
“Puccini’s music transports you with his soaring melodies and the emotion it conjures up. Puccini’s Butterfly is highly emotional and the female characters are so well drawn. The story is one great drama dealing with joy, loss and heartbreak.”
Two St. Albert Children’s Theatre performers, Claire and Conner Meeker, are part of the opera’s ensemble. Also from St. Albert, ESO musicians John Taylor (bass) and Neda Yamach (violin) are part of the 18-piece orchestra under the direction of Hiroya Miura.
August 24 to 27
Via Italia – Giovanni Caboto Park
95 Street and 109 Avenue
Tickets: $65 includes gala reception
Call 780-420-1757 or purchase online at www.tixonthesquare.ca