In the world of stagecraft and classical music, nothing quite meets the size and scope of opera.
That's something that Brian Asher Alhadeff, artistic director and conductor for Opera San Luis Obispo, is definitely cognizant of, especially when he programs an opera as iconic as Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly, which shows Oct. 14 and 15 at the Cal Poly's PAC. The production calls on more than 250 people both on and off stage, doing everything from designing costumes to singing arias.
- Photo Courtesy Of Tom Bowles
- BEING THE BUTTERFLY Opera SLO's production of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly stars Rena Harms as the title character, a young Japanese girl married off to an early 20th century American naval officer who leaves her behind, pregnant and alone.
"Opera is the Olympics of classical music," Alhadeff said. "It's where everything happens on one stage at the same time, of the design arts like lighting, costumes, sets, and props. You've got orchestra, you've got chorus, you've got acting, you've got solos with the singers. ... So, it's where all the roads converge in regards to classical music."
To be true to that scope, Alhadeff has done everything possible to make sure the production is at the grand scale expected of world-class opera houses. It takes more than just a village, it takes the best musicians, dancers, and craftspeople from across the Central Coast and California to make the show a reality, he said.
Opera SLO brings in collaborators from the community, like the Central Coast Children's Choir, Civic Ballet San Luis Obispo, Deyo Dance, and Studio @-Ryan's American Dance. The dancers and singers all perform to the music created live by the 55-member Opera SLO Grand Orchestra, with Alhadeff conducting. The ensemble is mostly made up of skilled Central Coast musicians, as well as session players from the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
"We're pulling out every single stop," Alhadeff said. "I hope this is going to be the crowning experience of this opera that anybody would hope to see.
"We're going to produce it in grand style, and that means it's going to be a massive, full orchestra," he added. "We're setting it traditionally with amazing colorful sets, special effects that are going to drive people crazy, and the costumes and the sets are all original, created by San Luis Obispo and Central Coast artists and artisans."
- Photo Courtesy Of Opera Slo
- SELF-SERVING Christopher Bengochea plays Pinkerton, the American naval officer out for conquest of country and women in OperaSLO's production of Madama Butterfly.
The ultimate ingredient in any opera production is the singers, Alhadeff explained, and he took great care when choosing the cast for Madama Butterfly.
The lead role will be performed by soprano Rena Harms, he said, who has sung this opera with three different productions so far this year, including with the English National Opera. Alhadeff explained that he wanted to bring someone to SLO to sing Madama Butterfly who had experience with the role, and whose voice was well suited to the character.
"I've done Madama Butterfly many times, and Rena Harms has done it many times all over the world in many different houses," he said. "So, she brings to this a level of experience and depth to the character."
The plot of Madama Butterfly follows Cio-Cio-San, or Madame Butterfly, a 15-year-old Japanese girl who is sold to an American naval officer, B.F. Pinkerton (Christopher Bengochea), by a marriage broker, Goro (Michael Mendels). Pinkerton openly gloats about wanting an "anchor in every port," and leaves Cio-Cio-San alone and pregnant, only to return years later with his American wife (Linda Baird) to take his son.
- Photo Courtesy Of Opera Slo
- MOST EXPERIENCED MADAMA Harms has performed the lead role of Cio-Cio-San several times so far this year, including with the Opera Theater St. Louis, Arizona Opera, and the English National Opera.
Puccini premiered the opera in 1904, and in true form of opera at the time, ends the romance with tragedy and loss. It also includes characterizations and themes that may challenge modern sensibilities, but that illustrate Puccini's "stereotypical impression" of both Japan and America, Alhadeff said.
"Madama Butterfly is a tragic love story about East meets West, and this man who just really takes for granted the human love that he has captured in this Japanese woman," he added. "But it happens to be set in the backdrop of Japan's doors opening to Western colonialism and America's hungry imperialistic appetite during that time to establish trade to this new rich country."
Realizing those fantastic portrayals and gut-wrenching moments of emotion requires every piece to be placed just right, from the elaborate sets to the musical direction. That's why the intensive rehearsal schedule is basically fulltime up until the performance, and why Alhadeff called on Harms to take the lead for the production and bring her world-class sound to SLO.
"It was the purity of her voice," he said. "It's just this pure, very clean, piercing soprano. When I heard her sing 'Un bel di [vedremo],' 'One Fine Day,' the title aria of the opera ... it was just so powerful, that's really what attracted me to Rena." Δ
Sun Managing Editor Joe Payne is an avid opera fan. Contact him at email@example.com.