Tulsa Opera's 'Madama Butterfly' is family affair
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2012
4/15/12 at 5:12 AM
What sets Cio-Cio San apart from most of the other characters Maria Kanyova has portrayed in her career is her Sorrow.
Not the emotion - the offspring.
Sorrow is the name that Cio-Cio San gives to her child, born after a brief liaison with an American naval officer named Pinkerton. And it's Sorrow who makes the tragedy of Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" all the more poignant for Kanyova.
"To be honest, there aren't that many mothers of young children in operas," she said, with a laugh. "But that's an aspect of the character with which I really identify, being a mom myself.
"I think it's important to have had that experience, that knowledge, of being a mother, in order to bring that to this character," Kanyova said. "Because having a child is what truly transforms Cio-Cio San from a naive teenager to a woman who in a very brief span of years does more than most people experience in an entire lifetime."
Kanyova will be able to draw a little more directly from that experience when she makes her Tulsa Opera debut in the lead role of Cio-Cio San in "Madama Butterfly." Kanyova's younger daughter, Kathleen, will be portraying Sorrow.
"Yes, my daughter will be playing my son," Kanyova said, laughing.
Kathleen Kanyova will be following in a family tradition - her older sister, Elizabeth, played the role in 2008, when Kanyova was performing with Madison Opera in Wisconsin.
"Elizabeth still talks about that - 'Do you remember when we were on stage?' " Kanyova said. "When she learned I was going to do 'Butterfly' here, she wanted to play Sorrow again, but I had to tell her that, at 8 years old, she was too old for the part.
"So naturally, she said, 'Then, could Kathleen do it?' " she said, laughing. "And once Elizabeth got that idea planted in Kathleen's mind ... well, here we are."
Yet, in spite of the joy and pride of sharing the stage with her daughter, Kanyova's own maternal instincts take priority.
"There are things in the story of 'Madama Butterfly' that aren't very '4-year-old friendly,' " she said. "And there are scenes that I do not want my child to see. To this day, my older daughter still doesn't know what Cio-Cio San does at the end of the opera. All she knows is that Cio-Cio San was very sad."
"Sad" is a bit of an understatement. Cio-Cio San is driven to suicide when she learns that the man she had assumed was her loving and devoted husband, for whom she has waited years to return, has come back to Japan with a new wife in tow, determined to remove Sorrow from Cio-Cio San's life forever.
"As a mother myself, it's inconceivable to me what she does," Kanyova said. "Of course, it's how the story has to end. Yet it just so goes against every instinct a mother has when it comes to her children. It's such a selfish and wasteful act.
"That's why I insisted that, when Sorrow is taken away at the end, my daughter is taken completely offstage," she said. "That was one of the conditions of her doing the role, and our director agreed."
David Roth, general director of Louisville's Kentucky Opera, will be directing Tulsa Opera's "Madama Butterfly," which will also star Frank Lopardo, in his company debut, as Pinkerton, with Audrey Babcock as Suzuki, Peter Hakjoon Kim as Sharpless and Rodell Aure Rosel as Goro. Kostis Protopapas, Tulsa Opera general director, will conduct the Tulsa Opera Orchestra.
Kanyova's Tulsa appearance comes between engagements for another of what has become one of the soprano's signature roles - Pat Nixon in the John Adams opera, "Nixon in China."
She sang the role earlier this year with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and heads for California once "Madama Butterfly" concludes to perform in the San Francisco Opera's production.
"To me, 'Madama Butterfly' is just about perfect," she said. "It's perfect for the voice, perfect simply to listen to, perfect in the way the story just wrenches your heart. 'Nixon in China' is a very different beast altogether."
It's one of several contemporary works Kanyova has performed - she recorded "Nixon in China" for the Naxos label and has been a part of the world-premiere productions of William Bolcom's "A Wedding," adapted from the film by Robert Altman, who directed the opera version; "Emmeline" by Tobias Picker, which debuted at Santa Fe Opera and was later televised on PBS; John Philip Sousa's "The Glass Blowers"; and Shulamit Ran's "Between Two Worlds."
But her repertoire is wide-ranged, encompassing everything from "La Traviata" and "La Boheme" to "Eugene Onegin" and "Jenufa."
"One thing about the voice is that it is remarkably flexible, and personally, I love doing things that keep stretching me artistically," Kanyova said.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and April
27; 2:30 p.m. April 29
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa
PAC, 101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $10-$98. 918-587-4811,
Original Print Headline: Family 'Butterfly'
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Soprano Maria Kanyova is fitted for a costume for her leading role as Cio-Cio San, a Japanese geisha, in the opera "Madama Butterfly." Helping her is wardrobe coordinator Deb Smith. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Maria Kanyova applies makeup for her leading role as Cio-Cio San in the opera "Madama Butterfly." CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World