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Wednesday August 27th 2014

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Madama Butterfly Returns to the Stage

The Pensacola Opera Produces Classic Tragedy
By Hana Frenette

Opera is extravagant. Even if the stages are scant and the costumes minimalistic, the voices of the singers project layers of decadence and tone.

For its latest production, “Madama Butterfly,” the Pensacola Opera will continue that notion of decadence by bringing in singers from all over the country, as well as the New York City Opera, set designs from the New Orleans Opera House, and costumes flown in from Toronto.

Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is set in Japan in the early 20th century. Cio-Cio San, the Butterfly, meets a young American Naval Officer and he makes her his wife, but only for his time in Japan. He leaves for America and the Butterfly is alone, distraught and ashamed, waiting for her husband to one day return.

“It’s probably one of the top five operas of all time,” Artistic Director Kyle Marrero said. “There are at least 250 performances of it in the country at any given time.”

Marrero is no stranger to the stage and has performed all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and South America. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in vocal performance from the Bowling Green State University and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Michigan. He is responsible for choosing the vocalists for each production. In short, he really knows his stuff.

“Madama Butterfly is something a company of our size needs to be giving its audience,” Marrero said. “It’s the meat and potatoes, so to speak.”

The Pensacola Opera has always tried to balance the classics with something a bit more contemporary when it comes to its production lineups.

“We’re always balancing our audience, thinking about what they want to see, and hear,” Marrero said. “How much do they want to be challenged?”

Although it may be a challenge to perform, Butterfly is no challenge to enjoy.

Madama Butterfly has been rewritten and reworked dozens of times since it was first performed under Puccini in 1904. Acts have been added or removed, scenes have been revamped. People can’t seem to get enough of it and are branching out to make it new and relevant among younger generations.

“It’s the atmosphere it creates, the exotic natures, the cultural interests,” Marrero said. “Puccini was a master of melody and the music still speaks to people, still has the ability to transcend audiences.”

The vocalists will be performing the traditional production along with Puccini’s original music performed by the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra.

Four of the main singers, including the role of Butterfly, are world famous singers that have performed in Opera houses around the world.

“Big city opera with small town charm,” Marrero said. “We’ve got four international singers performing right here in Pensacola and that is what our patrons have come to expect.”

Marrero devotes several months out of the year to searching for talent and attending auditions for vocalists so he can provide the kind of talent Pensacola has become accustomed to. He will hear over 300 voices in any one year of auditions.

“It’s a long process,” Marrero said. “We have auditions here, and in New York, and then I attend some summer festivals for auditions as well.”

The Pensacola Opera has made many business contacts and friends throughout the opera world and is making Pensacola a place where professionals want to come and work because they know that they will be treated well and be a part of a professional, grand production.

Be prepared for bigger and better productions in the years to come. Marrero and the opera board already have plans for next season’s shows.

“We want to try and stretch the artistic knowledge of the viewers,” Marrero said.

MADAMA BUTTERFLY
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday Jan. 20 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22
WHERE: The Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $25-$100
DETAILS: pensacolaopera.com