"Madame Butterfly," in all her pathos and majesty, comes to Utah during the coming week, in live performances by the Western Opera Theater, the touring branch of the San Francisco Opera Center.
The Puccini favorite, with full costuming and staging, sung in English, is conducted by Patrick Summer with two-piano accompaniment. A company of 18 singers alternate in the leading roles.Western Opera Theater began its Utah appearances in Cedar City on Feb. 16, and perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, in the Dixie Center at Dixie College in St. George. Further performances will be in Mt. Harmon Junior High, Price, at 7 p.m. Feb. 22; the Egyptian Theater in Park City at 8 p.m. Feb. 23; in Salt Lake City's Kingsbury Hall at 8 p.m. Feb. 24; and in Utah State University's Kent Concert Hall in Logan at 8 p.m. Feb. 25.
Tickets for the Salt Lake "Butterfly" are on sale at Kingsbury Hall, at $8-$10, $5-$7 for University of Utah students. The company will also present a free demonstration, "Meet the Artist," at 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 in Gardner Hall, during which two company singers will talk about their lives, training and career development, and sing arias. For information, call 581-6866.
For more than 20 years Western Opera Theater has been touring the country, offering high quality opera performed by gifted young American singers. From Alaska to Arizona, from California to North Carolina, from Wisconsin to Louisiana, the company has taken opera in English to well over two million people, often in communities that have never before seen a live opera. Yet response is usually enthusiastic, said press representative Robin Hodgkin.
WOT was created in 1967 by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and has traveled yearly ever since, the oldest such touring organization in the country.
Now engaged in its 22nd tour, the company travels by bus and truck, still with NEA assistance. It's a self-contained company, carrying its own scenery and lighting equipment. All the sponsor needs is a basic stage area at least 30 feet wide, 24 feet deep and 25 feet high, a source of power, and dressing room areas. WOT does the rest. This "Butterfly" has scene design by Jay Kotcher, lighting by Kurt Landesman and stage direction by Dan Balestrero, formerly of Salt Lake City.
"Western Opera Theater has been very busy this season," said Hodgkin. "They spent 10 weeks on the road from September to Thanksgiving, and have been out now since Jan. 19. They finish this tour in Arizona on April 18. Then a few of them will fly to Tokyo to stage Puccini's original, uncut version of `Butterfly,' with Japanese singers doing the Japanese parts.
"Our Maestro Patrick Summer and three singers will continue on to Shanghai for WOT's fourth visit there, teaching and performing."
WOT members are chosen from among the 30 singers of the San Francisco Opera's Merola Program, a yearly summer school for vocalists chosen by audition in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and other regional centers.
Western Opera Theater features only one show during a season, with alternate casts. Hence "Butterfly" has three different Cio-Cio-Sans and Suzukis, and two each of Pinkerton and Sharpless _ good insurance against the rigors of touring. Singers appearing in Salt Lake City give some idea of the diverse backgrounds of these young professionals, all union members.
Delaware soprano Katherine Harris, the Cio-Cio-San, is on her third WOT tour, having previously sung Mimi and Musetta in the United States and China, and Zerlina in "Don Giovanni." She's a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, studied at Yale, and currently studies with Doris Yarick Cross of New York City.
Craig Estep, the Pinkerton, is in his second year with WOT, having sung Ernesto in "Don Pasquale" in 1987, and Spoletta in the first ever "Tosca" in China, also in 1987, at the Shanghai Opera House. The North Carolina native, who has a master's degree in vocal performance, made his debut with North Carolina Opera and has sung frequently with Southern companies.
Mezzo Pamela King, WOT's Suzuki, comes to Western Opera Theater after appearing with Texas Opera Theater, and was a 1988 Merola student. To Sharpless, Kristopher Irmiter brings Southern opera credits and two years' experience with WOT.
Sponsoring the Utah tour in part are the Utah Arts Council and the Western States Arts Federation.