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Opera Review

New Turns in 'Butterfly'

Morris as Pinkerton Adds Power, and Pinch-Hitter Hynes Provides Drama

November 06, 1998|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new Cio-Cio San of great dramatic power and a tenor who could sustain his vocal ring through the end of the opera took over key roles in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" for Opera Pacific on Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Elizabeth Hynes stepped into the title role, a.k.a. Cio-Cio San, a little over a week ago to replace Marie Plette, who had withdrawn on doctor's orders following complications in her pregnancy.

Remembered for her spinto power in the Butterfly role for this company in 1991, Hynes this time showed real vocal wear. She retained the power to soar over the orchestra, but she had problems with vocal wobble, especially at the beginning, spreading tone and a lack of sheen and subtlety.

Unlike Paula Delligatti on opening night, Hynes did not sing the high D-flat at the end of Butterfly's entrance, taking the lower option. It was a wise decision. She was able to keep some high notes fresh for later, as at the end of her lullaby to her child, Trouble.

Even so, and despite looking less the 15-year-old bride than many have in the role, Hynes compensated with committed, nuanced and detailed acting.

A veteran trouper, she didn't drop a beat when Trouble was sent in a bit prematurely, before she could get the suicide knife up to her throat.

So, of course, she was effective. Puccini, genius as he is, can almost guarantee that, especially as Butterfly is his most innocent and sinned-against heroine.

*

As the new Pinkerton, Jay Hunter Morris, making his company debut, embodied a feckless youth--eager, athletic, clumsy and cross-culturally maladroit. There are other ways to present Pinkerton, but his was a reasonable characterization.

Morris' tenor was a not-always-appealing alloy of steel and gold, and he had support problems at the beginning, at the low end of the range and at quieter dynamics.

Still, he was a force to reckon with in the confrontation with the Bonze, Cio-Cio San's Shinto priest uncle, whom Pinkerton orders off the premises with authority. He also had enough vocal heft at the end of the opera to sing a spirited farewell to the home he once shared with Butterfly ("Addio fiorito asil").

*

Completing the cast changes, Jane Bunnell, also new to the company, made a reasonably supportive Suzuki, but she was neither as dramatically nor as vocally rich and persuasive as her predecessor, Zheng Cao. Perhaps she did not receive as much rehearsal time as the first cast did.

This has been one of the company's recurring faults over the years. Another, again evident, is too often casting subordinate roles--some previously reviewed--with weak and undistinguished singers.

John DeMain again conducted.

* "Madama Butterfly" continues with alternating casts today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $28-$131. (714) 740-7878 (Ticketmaster).

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