Boise “Butterfly” Spreads Her Wings

Since I’m finally home and done with the busy “producer” schedule I’ve been on for the three weeks prior to the premier of Madama Butterfly, I thought  I would give you a view of the production as I saw it:

Great opera often happens in unexpected places and venues…case in point, last week’s Madama Butterfly in Boise, Idaho, where the intimate and funky Egyptian Theater served as the backdrop for two excellent performances of Puccini’s beloved masterpiece …. You would think that golden pharaohs, scantily clad slaves and hieroglyphics would clash mightily with a turn of the (last) century Japanese “casa soffietto”, ma no! A cleverly designed set (by Jennifer Wilhelmi) and costumes from Eugene Opera meshed deliciously in this small, acoustically excellent old movie house. Combined with an attractive and talented young cast, led by the stunning Cio-cio-san of young Greek/American soprano, Eleni Calenos.

Opera Idaho treated Boise opera afficionados to two sold out evenings of verismo enchantment, led by Metropolitan Opera conductor, and recent Classical Singer “Coach of the Year”, Steven Crawford. Executive Director Mark Junkert is responsible for bringing together a wonderful ensemble of local and international artists, which included Chris Bengochea (Pinkerton), Jason and Michelle Detwiler (Sharpless and Suzuki), Peter Tantsits (Goro) and Jim Poston (the Bonze). Mr. Junkert clearly has an excellent vision for this growing regional company, and with productions like these, the future for Opera Idaho appears to be very bright, indeed… Their season continues with Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment and a semi-staged Carousel in early summer.

This production of Madama Butterfly continues a long personal relationship that began almost 28 years years ago, with a 54 performance Western Opera Tour in which I logged my first 17 performances of Sharpless and many more as Yamadori, the Imperial Commissioner and even Yakuside. A year later, I performed Yamadori at the San Francisco Opera,  coached by the great Italian basso, Paolo Montarsolo, who was the Bonze on the famous EMI recording with Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi. Since then, I have sung Sharpless many more times, and this production at Opera Idaho is the third that I have directed. Every time I sit and listen to this quintessential example of Puccini’s lyrical, emotional genius, I am filled with gratitude for the friendship of my late teacher and coach, Lorenzo Malfatti, who took me to Torre del Lago in 1985 to walk by the lake and sit at the desk where Butterfly was written and breathe the Tuscan air which inspired it! There is no adequate thanks for such a gift, but….Grazie ancora, maestro! “Un’ bel di”, I hope to do so again:)

I wasn’t intending to be a PR agent for Boise, but after singing/directing there three times in the past eight years, I have to say that it is clean, modern and beautiful city, with a wide and interesting variety of activities… cultural, culinary and recreational. The people seem to take great pride in their city, and have invariably been kind and helpful… the weather is consistently mild, and the scenery is gorgeous!  If you find yourself in the Boise area, check out Opera Idaho, and the many other things that the area has to offer. And as a final note, the fly fishing opportunities within two hours are amazing!!

David Malis

P.S. If you ever visit Boise, I highly recommend seeing a production at Opera Iaho.

About David

David offers vocal lessons and voice coaching to professionals, students and beginners. He brings thirty years of professional experience specializing in healthy vocal technique, classical music, musical theater, choral music, Italian, and German and French Diction to your learning experience. Whether your goal is the MET, your local school or church choral group or improved confidence in your singing and/or public speaking, David can help you!
David also performs in, directs, produces, and conducts operas and is available singing engagements. Schedule a lesson or performance now! (970)209-9750 or

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You’re Invited to My Production of Madama Butterfly this Month

As my first post, I want to invite you to the production of Madama Butterfly that I am directing at Opera Idaho Springs this February. Below are the event details courtesy of Opera Idaho and Opera News:


Friday, February 18th, 7:30pm
Sunday, February 20th, 2:30pm
The Egyptian Theatre

Puccini discovered the story of Madama Butterfly while he was attending the premiere of his Tosca at Covent Garden. Well-known American playwright and Broadway producer David Belasco wrote a one-act play called Madame Butterfly, which Puccini saw presented at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, England. Puccini was captivated by the sad tale of an callous American officer, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries a vulnerable Japanese girl, Cio-Cio-San, and callously leaves her, marrying another woman and then returning for the child he created with Butterfly.

Puccini spent the next four years setting the tale of Madama Butterfly to music, and it premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in February 17, 1904. Almost 106 years to the date of its original premiere, Opera Idaho brings the tale of Madama Butterfly to life again on Friday Feb. 18th (7:30), 2011 and Sunday Feb. 20th (2:30pm) at The Egyptian Theatre. Soprano Eleni Calenos will appear as Cio-Cio-San, with Christopher Bengochea as Lt. B.F. Pinkerton, Jason Detwiler as Sharpless, Michele Detwiler as Suzuki and Peter Tantsits as Goro.


ACT I. Japan, early twentieth century. On a flowering terrace above Nagasaki harbor, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro, who has just procured him three servants and a geisha wife, Cio-Cio-San, known as Madama Butterfly. To the American consul, Sharpless, who arrives breathless from climbing the hill, Pinkerton describes the carefree philosophy of a sailor roaming the world in search of pleasure. At the moment, he is enchanted with the fragile Cio-Cio-San, but his 999-year marriage contract contains a monthly renewal option. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, Pinkerton brushes aside such scruples, saying he will one day marry a “real” American wife. Cio-Cio-San is heard in the distance joyously singing of her wedding. Entering surrounded by friends, she tells Pinkerton how, when her family fell on hard times, she had to earn her living as a geisha. Her relatives bustle in, noisily expressing their opinions on the marriage. In a quiet moment, Cio-Cio-San shows her bridegroom her few earthly treasures and tells him of her intention to embrace his Christian faith. The Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, and the guests toast the couple. The celebration is interrupted by Cio-Cio-San’s uncle, a Buddhist priest, who bursts in, cursing the girl for having renounced her ancestors’ religion. Pinkerton angrily sends the guests away. Alone with Cio-Cio-San in the moonlit garden, he dries her tears, and she joins him in singing of their love.

ACT II. Three years later, Cio-Cio-San waits for her husband’s return. As Suzuki prays to her gods for aid, her mistress stands by the doorway with her eyes fixed on the harbor. When the maid shows her how little money is left, Cio-Cio-San urges her to have faith: one fine day Pinkerton’s ship will appear on the horizon. Sharpless brings a letter from the lieutenant, but before he can read it to Cio-Cio-San, Goro comes with a suitor, the wealthy Prince Yamadori. The girl dismisses both marriage broker and prince, insisting her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read the letter and suggests Pinkerton may not return. Cio-Cio-San proudly carries forth her child, Dolore (Trouble), saying that as soon as Pinkerton knows he has a son he surely will come back; if he does not, she would rather die than return to her former life. Moved by her devotion, Sharpless leaves, without having revealed the full contents of the letter. Cio-Cio-San, on the point of despair, hears a cannon report; seizing a spyglass, she discovers Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Now delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her fill the house with flowers. As night falls, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki and the child begin their vigil.

ACT III. As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-San rest. Humming a lullaby to her child, she carries him to another room. Before long, Sharpless enters with Pinkerton, followed by Kate, his new wife. When Suzuki realizes who the American woman is, she collapses in despair but agrees to aid in breaking the news to her mistress. Pinkerton, seized with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness, then rushes away. When Cio-Cio-San comes forth expecting to find him, she finds Kate instead. Guessing the truth, the shattered Cio-Cio-San agrees to give up her child if his father will return for him. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out the dagger with which her father committed suicide and bows before a statue of Buddha, choosing to die with honor rather than live in disgrace. As she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Sobbing farewell, Cio-Cio-San sends him into the garden to play, then stabs herself. As she dies, Pinkerton is heard calling her name.

– courtesy of Opera News

Cast & Gallery

Cio-Cio-San – Eleni Calenos
Lt. B.F. Pinkerton – Christopher Bengochea
Suzuki – Michele Detwiler
Sharpless – Jason Detwiler
Goro – Peter Tantsits
The Bonze – Jim Poston
Yamadori – Dirk Robinson
Commissioner – Timothy Stoddard
Registrar – Willis Carr
Kate Pinkerton – Maria Gubbels
Yakuside – Michal Jarolimek
Mother – Jennifer Burke
Aunt – Vernae Buck
Cousin – Amanda Campbell

Stage Director – David Malis
Conductor – Steven Crawford
Set Designer – Jennifer Wilhelmi

Chorus Women
Merri Bennett, Soprano
Kathleen Beynun, Soprano
Ana Boyd, Soprano
Lura Penland, Soprano
Bonnie Salewski, Soprano
Stephanie Santos, Soprano
Elisa Egli, Mezzo
Vicke Lee, Mezzo
Carol Macgregor, Mezzo
Diane Petersen, Mezzo

Chorus Men
David Christensen, Tenor
Alexander Lundquist, Tenor
Russell Smith, Tenor
Wally Tuck, Tenor
Willis Carr, Bass
Victor Castillo, Bass
Fernando Menendez, Bass
Stephen Price, Bass

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