Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
I was delighted to be in the audience Friday night (Oct. 21) for a stunning moment in Binghamton’s cultural history. I knew the Tri-Cities Opera production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly would be good, just not how good. And that was mostly due to Jake and Jill Gardner, who sang the leading roles of Cio-Cio-San and Sharpless. Sorry if this seems like a list of superlatives, but here we go:
- The set designed by Gary Eckhart was as beautiful and subtle as a fine Japanese garden. The most dramatic moments of the opera took place behind transparent screens, heightening the tension over anything that happened in plain sight.
- The orchestra, conducted by John Mario Di Costanzo, performed as a finely honed instrument, never obtrusive, never overshadowing the singers The cellos and violins sang with the same poignancy and pathos as the performers on stage.
- Jill Gardner took everyone on an emotional roller-coaster. Never mind that she obviously wasn’t a 15-year old naïf. She convincingly portrayed an adolescent who grows into a emotionally mature woman through three years of hardship. Jake Gardner brought an avuncular warmth and kindness to the role of Sharpless. His voice has never been better. The chemistry between the two brought an extra bonus to the production.
- The entire supporting cast was superb, especially lyrical tenor Kirk Dougherty as B.F. Pinkerton and mezzo-soprano Cabiria Jacobsen as Suzuki. Little Sachiko Nicholson as Sorrow nearly stole the show, without singing a single note.
- Bravo to Jake Gardner, with Judy Berry, for their efficient stage direction. They did their mentors, Tri-Cities Opera Co-founders Peyton Hibbitt and the late Carmen Savoca, proud.
One small quibble – you could see cast members walking between the side curtains backstage and it was distracting.
The newly renovated Forum sparkles, although leg room is still in short supply, and the chairs aren’t plush enough to be comfortable.
During the past 16 months, TCO has been reinventing itself for the 21st century. It’s great to see that the opera company hasn’t abandoned its past in the process. By bringing back some of the best performers from past years, the company is on its way to a rosy future.
The production was dedicated to Roger Hartman, whose more than three decades’ association with TCO has ranged from singer to executive director to board member and longtime volunteer.
There are still seats available for Sunday’s 3 p.m. matinee. Call the TCO box office at 607-772-0400 or visit www.tricitiesopera.com.