I had never been to an opera before Madame Butterfly; my first impression was that I had never seen such a high concentration of silver-haired heads in my life. During intermission (the first of two), an elderly fellow leaned against a pillar in the lobby, in a tweed suit coat, reading his iPhone with a magnifying glass.
Pushing past the stereotype, the opera has a lot to offer even to those outside of its presumed demographic. The story of Madame Butterfly is familiar enough—Weezer even (kinda) made an album (Pinkerton) about it. Set in Japan in the early 20th century, the period drama stars the bastardly US Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, who meets and becomes infatuated with the "fragile geisha" Cio-Cio-San (AKA Butterfly). "Her childish way of speaking sets me on fire," he declares. Somehow, Cio-Cio-San falls in love with him and they marry; Cio-Cio-San renounces her family's Buddhist faith for Pinkerton's Christianity. Her family rejects her, and then Pinkerton sails off and abandons Cio-Cio-San, leaving her to await his return to Japan. In the meantime she has his baby, and when Pinkerton returns with a new, aloof American wife, the Japanese woman kills herself to maintain her honor.
Soprano Kelly Kaduce is Butterfly in Portland Opera's production, and she is genuinely incredible, receiving a full standing ovation at Sunday's matinee. (On that note, the opera must be the only place you'll hear people yell "Bravo!" and be sincere about it). Kaduce's disposition is delicate, but with dimension and resonance. "I have only seen a few people who really engage you with every note she sings, with every move she makes, every part of her is giving," says Portland Opera's baritone, André Chiang, of Kaduce's performance. "At times you almost feel like a voyeur." Roger Honeywell, on the other hand, who played Pinkerton, received a light-hearted "boo" when he stepped up for his bow.
The lighting is gorgeous, setting the mood accordingly with warm, vibrant tones, and later melancholy blue casts across the stage. The work is, of course, sung in Italian, but digital supertitles offer English translations, and Puccini's music is recognizable enough. "A lot of movie composers base a lot of stuff on Puccini. I had, like, two CDs growing up, and one of them was this La Bohème highlights CD," says mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes (who plays Kate Pinkerton in the production) of the composer's visibility in contemporary culture.
Madame Butterfly is short, for an opera—which means it has three acts and two intermissions, and clocks in at around three hours. You might assume that tickets are prohibitively expensive, but that's not necessarily the case. The Portland Opera offers some specials: For students, there's a $10 ticket rush, available one hour before curtain for all available seats. Otherwise, the cheapest tickets are just under $30. If this is daunting, but you're still interested in the form, you might check out Opera Theater Oregon, who continues their Opera vs. Cinema program on Friday, February 10, with Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis. The movie screens at the Mission Theater, accompanied by a live score based on Verdi's opera Aida. There's dystopian-titled drink specials to boot, and a class called the Art of Silent Film Accompaniment debuts the next day.