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By Frances Brennan

Some have called Madame Butterfly Puccini's most restrained work because of its simple setting, simple plot and strongly drawn lead. Musically, it is known for its accessibility and listenability.

The St. Pete Opera's current prouction stays true to this construction, emphasizing the opera's beautiful musical composition through breathtaking lead performances and letting the "facts" of the libretto, with its themes of exploitation, abandonment, and the obligations and permissions of culture, speak for themselves.

Underneath its understated beauty is a tragic story for today set in the nearby past. Puccini based the libretto on a very popular play of the 1900s by David Belaso that was inspired by a true story a relative told about a young woman she met while living in Japan.

In the opera, Butterfly,("Cio Cio" in Japanese), a financially disadvantaged Geisha from a poor family, is basically given away by the power brokers in her life to an American Soldier, Pinkerton, in a marriage that, for him is only temporary but, for her is a permanent lifelong union. Pinkerton makes his intentions clear to those arranging it. The union takes an even more tragic turn when Butterfly renounces her Buddhist faith for her "husband's" Christianity, causing her family to denounce her. Pinkerton then abandons Butterfly promising to return. While he is away, she has a son and waits faithfully for his return. He returns more than three years later with his American wife. Butterfly gives them her son and commits suicide.

The opera revolves around Butterfly. Soprano Zoya Gramagin as Cio Cio San, meets the demands of the role wonderfully. Her opening night performance of "In Bel Di Vedermo (One Good Day We Will See)", the opera's most famous and most performed aria, was flawless, with a quality that must match any that can be heard. Tenor Samuel Hall's soaring and powerful voice offers an ample, rich and intriguing counterpoint as Pinkerton that is a perfect match to hers. Stage direction by Karl W. Hesser complements the performances perfectly, The use of one austere set for all three acts lets them shine. Costumes are beautiful, but never overwhelm the emphasis on musical quality.

Interestingly, Puccini's premiere of Madama Butterfly was such a failure that he withdrew it after opening night, returning the performance fee he had been paid. The opera performed today evolved through a series of adjustments he made to the original work over the course of several subsequent performances.

The St. Pete Opera performs Madame Butterfly through June 30. See show times and ticket link above.

The St Pete Opera Presents Madame Butterfly at The Palladium Theater 253 5th Ave N, St. Pete, Fl 33701
Two performances remain of The St. Pete Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Palladium Theater on Friday June 28 at 7:30 pm and Sunday. June 30 at 2 pm. Tickets are available here.