Entertainment

Accessible opera? Modesto company promises easy intro with “Butterfly”

From left to right- Linda Baird, Ashley Bell and Christopher Bengahea prepare for the Townsend Opera Players production of Madame Butterfly at The Modesto Bee Monday, April 16, 2018.
From left to right- Linda Baird, Ashley Bell and Christopher Bengahea prepare for the Townsend Opera Players production of Madame Butterfly at The Modesto Bee Monday, April 16, 2018.

Boasting an age-old tale that’s often the bread-and-butter of dramatic love stories, Modesto’s opera company closes its current season with a classic.

Townsend Opera brings Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” back to the Gallo Center for the Arts stage, promising a production that both aficionados of and newcomers to opera can adore.

“We’ve thought incredibly hard about what (the audience’s) experience will be,” Townsend’s resident conductor Ryan Murray said in a press release, “from the music selected, to the set, to the combined dramatic effect.”

One of its stars is a Stanislaus County native, returning for his home region debut. Adding to the local flavor, Modesto’s Central West Ballet also will be part of the production, performing a pas de deux accompanying the opera’s “Humming Chorus.”

One of the most accessible aspects to “Madame Butterfly” will be the music, according to the release: “Best of all, even newcomers to opera will know more of this music than they realize.”

The signature aria “Un Bel Di” has scored films from “Fatal Attraction” to “Heavenly Creatures” and advertised everything from stain proof carpeting and cars, to breakfast cereal and ice cream bars, the release said.

This will be the third staging of “Madame Butterfly” by Townsend Opera, with a production they say will be “jewel-box-pretty.”

The story, set in early 20th century Japan, follows the tragic fate of a geisha who marries an American Navy lieutenant and gives up her family to be with him. For the lieutenant, however, it’s more a marriage of convenience. After he ships out, Butterfly waits years with their son for his return, believing he will come back for her. But when he does return, it’s with his American wife.

The role of the Bonze is being played by Hughson High School graduate Nathan Stark, a Metropolitan Opera veteran. He’s “excited to make this his long-delayed home stage debut,” according to the press release.

New York City opera singer Ashley Bell stars in the title role for the production, which is being directed by Annalisa Winberg – who has sung the title role in the past.

Along with Stark, others in the cast include Roy Stevens, Chris Bengochea and San Francisco Opera’s Linda Baird.

Townsend brings back its pre-show lectures for the production, an audience favorite, according to the release. Lectures by conductor Ryan Murray and drama critic Hillari DeSchane begin before the shows, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27, and 1 p.m. Sunday, April 29. Lectures are included in the ticket price.

“Madame Butterfly”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29

WHERE: Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

TICKETS: $15-$69

ONLINE: townsendopera.com, galloarts.org

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