Review: “Madama Butterfly”

Where: Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive
When: Through Jan. 26
Phone: 312-332-2244

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Lyric Opera of Chicago has a new production of “Madama Butterfly.” It’s simple, it’s pretty and it’s effective.

The sets and costumes by Christopher Oram and the stage direction by Louisa Muller (of a revival originally directed by Michael Gramdage) make for a tidy Butterfly, one which is close-up and filled with pathos.

Soprano Amanda Echalaz takes on the title role with a lot of energy, even if her efforts might at times be better concentrated on accuracy. Nonetheless, she has enough to convince you of the devotion which will ultimately lead to her own demise. She could be more understated, yet she still has the ability to command your attention.

James Valenti brings a handsome tenor to the role of Pinkerton, even if he’s short on the true heft the character requires. His attention to detail is commendable, and he knows when it’s important to create attractive sound.

Maryann McCormick’s Suzuki is strong and nurturing, and her dusky mezzo-soprano is one of this production’s ornaments.

Similarly well cast is Christopher Purves as Sharpless, the hapless government representative who sees all too clearly the tragedy that’s in store.

It’s a pleasure to see Lyric regular David Cangelosi making splendid work of Goro, the marriage broker. Other good performances are put in by Anthony Clark Evans as Prince Yamadori and David Govertsen as the Bonze.

Conductor Marco Armilliato leads the orchestra in a taught reading with lots of lush character. The Lyric Opera Chorus shines.

This production runs through Jan. 26, with Patricias Racette as Butterfly and Stefano Secco as Pinkerton in the new year.

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University of Chicago Presents hosted the Spanish string quartet Cuarteto Casals on the first of the month, and it was a splendid evening of music. The group opened with a fetching performance of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, op. 33, no. 3, “The Bird.” There was an instructive juxtaposition between the calm and the perky, and the final movement’s brisk pace never kept the individual voices from ringing clear.

The Debussy String Quartet in G Minor was appropriately pretty, if rather quiet at times, and embodied just the right intensity in the later moments.

After the intermission, Guitarist Denis Azabagic took the stage to perform “Out of Africa” by Alan Thomas. This five-movement work was given gorgeous treatment by Azabagic, who expertly navigated the interesting score.

The evening was capped off by the Boccherini Quintet in D Major for Guitar and Strings, “Fandango.” The strong guitar was effective and the subdued strings were charming. The concluding Fandango was gloriously realized and when the audience cheered at the end there was nothing to do but for the players to return and give us the Fandago all over again. It was a lovely magical moment.