Even as New York City Opera is shrinking in its presence in the opera scene, so smaller companies are exhibiting a greater one. Among the many small companies we have always enjoyed is the Chelsea Opera founded by Lynne Hayden-Finlay and Leonarda Priore. The former served as director of the current production of Madama Butterfly and co-producer along with Ms. Priore. For the most part we found the direction to be exemplary, making good use of the small "stage" of St. Peter's Church in Chelsea and giving characters stage business that was apt but never fussy or distracting. We were, however, puzzled by Cio-Cio San's final disembowelment when her initial attempt at ritual suicide was the more culturally correct slashing of the carotid artery. The simple set achieved by Ms. Priore served well and was much enhanced by Michael Megliola's lighting design.
Maestro Carmine Aufiero can always be counted on; he led the Chelsea Opera Chamber Orchestra in a sensitive reading of Puccini's lavish score, here reduced by Richard Balcombe and played by 15 fine musicians in the pit and one very versatile keyboardist named Cory Battey who was obliged to provide the percussion and harp sounds.
Among the singers, the two whose voices fell the loveliest onto our ears were tenor Aaron Blankfield who portrayed Goro, the marriage broker and the lovely Yajie Chen who exhibited a true mezzo sound throughout her vocal range in the role of Suzuki. Unlike the leads, we experienced her as living the part and not "acting". Of course, it helps a great deal that she is Asian. We are not saying that there haven't been some great Caucasian performers portraying Asian people--just that it was not necessary to suspend disbelief. It WAS necessary to do just that in the pairing of soprano Christina Rohm as Cio-Cio San and tenor Daniel Rodriguez as Lt. Pinkerton. Both appeared to be working rather hard at singing and acting but there was a notable absence of chemistry between them. Ms. Rohm has some lovely squillo at the top, singing the "Un bel di" quite well, but was occasionally hard to hear. The absence of surtitles made us wish for better diction.
Lynn Abeles sang the role of Kate Pinkerton and baritone Justin Ryan was the much put-upon U.S. Consul. Cio-Cio San's child was played by a very winsome Kevin Wielczyk.
We understand that next year's season will include two contemporary operas and are pleased to note that the Chelsea Opera has grown to embrace a most enthusiastic audience. We wish them all the best.
(c) meche kroop