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Madame Butterfly

Quintessential Opera Beckons Even the Doubtful of Hearts

Theatre Preview by Janine Eva Trotta (From GayCalgary® Magazine, April 2014, page 26)
Madame Butterfly: Quintessential Opera Beckons Even the Doubtful of Hearts
Madame Butterfly: Quintessential Opera Beckons Even the Doubtful of Hearts

Like Swan Lake is to the ballet world, Madame Butterfly is one of those productions that has etched itself into the stone of opera masterworks.

Created by Italian composer and notorious philanderer Giacomo Puccini (La Bohème, Tosca, Turandot), named by some as the greatest Italian composer following Verdi, Madame Butterfly is the story of love and waiting.

A young geisha, Cio-cio-San, has just become the wife of an American Navy Officer, a Lieutenant Pinkerton, when he is called back to his country.

As year, after year, after year toil by, Cio-cio-San (Butterfly) still waits, lovingly raising the son Pinkerton has never met and refuting chances at new love, all the while supported by her doting maid.

South African-Canadian mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal plays the role of Suzuki for the third time in her nine-year professional operatic career.

"One of the truest loves in this whole opera is the love between Suzuki and Butterfly," Segal states. "Suzuki is there as her rock and as her faithful companion throughout her whole journey."

Segal describes the beautiful music that is sung between them as emotive, often difficult to halt succumbing to.

"The biggest challenge [in performing this role] I think is to remain composed so that the emotion of the moment doesn’t take over," she says. "Mid rehearsals there have been moments where [cast members] have broke down in tears."

It helps that Segal is comfortable in the opera’s language - Italian. Though she attended university to study physics, through friends she became enveloped into the world of opera.

"Some music to balance out the science," she smiles. "I always loved music, from a little girl."

Segal played various musical instruments from a young age and could always sing, but didn’t begin operatic training until adulthood. She extolls inspirations to those who have the drive, access to good training, and some natural abilities of course, to pursue their passion regardless of age.

"I think that anybody who loves music should always be encouraged to take lessons," she says.

Nearly a decade later Segal is now well versed in German and French as well, the three staple languages of opera. Her name is attributed to a length of roles in good companies, thus it was that she was asked to play Suzuki for this production, not needing to audition.

General Director and CEO for Calgary Opera, Bob McPhee, requested Segal for what will be her first show on the main stage for the company. Segal became known to the director when she came to Calgary many years ago as part of the opera’s emerging artist program. At that time she performed in a locally composed, student opera.

Segal says Madame Butterfly has always been one of her favourites.

"The music is absolutely stunning," she says. "There are moments of complete sublime."

When the opera first opened in 1904 it was met with heckles and hostility, some speculate due to Puccini’s jealous rivals and others to inadequate rehearsals pre-premier. Puccini took some months to revise it, eventually making five revisions in total. It is the fifth version that has become most widely performed and known throughout the world.

"The story is about love and devotion; it is a very human story," Segal says, calling this particular production ‘minimalistic, feminine, ethereal, and floating’.

"People will go and be taken away to this other world, and be transported from the emotion of the piece," she describes. "For people who haven’t been before this is a great opera to go to."

Segal is being hailed a young voice to watch out for; her timbre said to be "gleaming and luscious" and her operatic interpretations "absolutely sensational", "alluring" and "sexy".

She has sang with regularity for the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble, most recently as The Muse/Nicklausse in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. She has also performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Coronoation Mass and as Meg in Verdi’s Falstaff for the L’Opéra de Montréal.

The cast for Calgary’s Madame Butterfly will additionally feature soprano Sally Dibblee as Cio-cio-San and tenor David Pomeroy as Pinkerton, with Joseph Mechavich conducting.

Performances will take place Saturday, April 5; Wednesday, April 9; and Friday, April 11 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium with special events running throughout that week.

"It’s just gorgeous and heart breaking," Segal says. "Everything that opera should be."


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