Review: Anchorage Opera's uncomplicated 'Madame Butterfly'

Director Albert Sherman has given Anchorage Opera a straightforward production of "Madame Butterfly," letting the simple tear-jerker speak for itself without trying to squeeze out a subtext that isn't there. The plot isn't complicated, after all: Boy meets girl, boy jilts girl, girl does what sopranos do at the end of sad operas. The result is effective storytelling that delivers the emotional punch Puccini intended.

The plain set is dominated by the sliding screen wall of Butterfly's house on the hill in Nagasaki. It has few props. The flower scene depends on a smattering of bouquets rather than armfuls of flora. Effective lighting by Cedar Cussins suitably creates the sunset scenes at the ends of Acts One and Two. The costumes are effective, but little effort went into making the American singers look like Japanese. Not that such things matter much in opera, where no makeup is better than bad makeup.

Though the voices of the cast are not particularly big, all of the principals did well on Friday night. Inna Dukach, in the title role, sang the long and strenuous part without sounding weary; in fact, she added edge and power as the character evolved from demure girl to devastated woman.

Pinkerton -- the boy in the plot -- was sung by Kirk Dougherty, whose Arturo was a surprise bonus in Anchorage Opera's recent "Lucia di Lammermoor." His voice seemed too small at the start of the first act but suitable at the end. He was clearly audible in the trio. Furthermore, he was a rare Pinkerton who came across as genuinely remorseful. His sincerity and Dukach's intensity made the finale convincing and dramatic.

Marsha Ackerman as the faithful housekeeper and Jonathan Beyer as the American consul turned in solid performances. They often seemed stronger than the principal singers and, when the time came for the last act trio, poured themselves into the notes.

"Butterfly" has a number of short roles, but in this production the standouts are Jeffrey Halili as conniving Goro, the supplier of all things a Yankee needs in Nagasaki, housing, wives, and booming bass Perry L. Brown as Butterfly's angry uncle, the Bonze.

The orchestra, conducted by Gerald Steichen, nicely executed the several long, atmospheric instrumental sections that set the mood in the work. However, the strings experienced problems all night long and, notably in the first act, the percussion overpowered the rest of the light forces in the pit.

One expects that Anchorage Opera's incoming general director Reed Smith encountered several surprise hurdles in bringing the show to the stage some 60 days after arriving in town. But this largely misstep-free production is a propitious start to his tenure and, by the end of the night, it felt like the company is regaining its aesthetic feet following some slovenly work last season.

There's also the matter of shoring up the company's economic base, a critical priority if the Opera is to survive. There are several fundraising efforts underway during the run, including a raffle for a trip to San Francisco and sales of prints of Don Kolstad's painting of Anchorage seen on the program cover. Smith announced a six-figure grant from philanthropists Ed and Cathy Rasmuson, and the Henry Penney family is matching donations made through the weekend up to $60,000. Donations can be made at Significant recent improvements at the website are another indication that things may be looking up for Anchorage Opera.

"Madame Butterfly" will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, in the Discovery Theatre. The show lasts three hours with two intermissions. Tickets are available at