By Nancy Plum
It is difficult not to bask in the music of late 19th-century Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini. The soaring melodic lines and lush orchestrations of Puccini’s operas captivate listeners, even if they are not opera fans. Boheme Opera NJ brought operatic simplicity and Puccini’s opulent music to the stage of The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall Theater this past weekend with a new production of the timeless Madama Butterfly. Conceived and directed by Stefanos Koroneos and sung in Italian with English supertitles, this performance was highly entertaining and gave the audience more than a few thrilling moments of singing.
As with all their productions, Boheme Opera NJ compiled a cast of experienced performers, including both singers returning to the company’s stage and those making a debut. In Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Sunday afternoon), conductor Joseph Pucciatti began the opera overture quickly and with breathless musical energy, as the curtain opened on a modest set of Butterfly’s house bathed in black and shadows.
As lead character Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), soprano Ashley Galvani Bell brought operatic experience going back to her childhood as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. Bell showed a ringing upper register, especially in Butterfly’s signature aria “Un bel dì,” as she maintained eternal hope that her beloved Pinkerton would return. Clearly a woman who knew what she wanted, Bell’s Butterfly demonstrated a wide range of emotions through the music — teasing with Pinkerton, calming with her son and demure at the right times. more