- The Canadian Opera Company
- At the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto on Tuesday
Yannick-Muriel Noah endured many trials before becoming the star of the show at Tuesday's second opening night for the Canadian Opera Company's production of Madama Butterfly .
During the past few years, Noah, a recent graduate of the COC's Ensemble Studio, has measured herself against dozens of other young singers in more than 20 singing competitions.
She carried off several prizes before returning to Toronto's Four Seasons Centre to show off what those judges have been commending. In the end, we experienced much more than they did: They heard a voice, we witnessed a real singer-actress inhabiting a taxing dramatic role.
Faith and patience are Butterfly's dominant traits, and they came through so strongly in Noah's performance that she half-convinced me that this opera is really a religious drama. Un bel di , her shining vision of her husband Pinkerton's return, sounded like prophesy. Even more than usual, her full-voiced credo at the aria's end felt like a tragic counterpart to the moral transience expressed by Pinkerton (tenor Bryan Hymel) at the start of the opera.
Noah's lirico-spinto voice has a dark, developed sound and an ample vibrato - not the equipment one would immediately associate with innocence. But she projected that quality from her very first scene, through her bearing, her phrasing, her way of moving through the drama as if nothing in it would ever hurt her.
Hymel's compact, shining tenor was a pleasure to hear, even when you wanted to slap his character's face. Pinkerton should be both attractive and obtuse, and Hymel worked the combination to the very end, seeming almost as callow in his regret as in his egotism. But he made me believe in the character's tenderness during his major scene with Butterfly, as the two indulged in mutual incomprehension of the most intimate sort.
Brett Polegato played Sharpless as a man for whom diplomacy is both a profession and a curse. This fine baritone's understated expression of his qualms about Pinkerton's marriage was so carefully paced that his belated show of impatience with the big lug felt like a deliverance.
Mezzo-soprano Anita Krause made sensitive work of Butterfly's servant Suzuki, sharing a lovely duet with Noah just after the cannon announced the return of Pinkerton's ship. The excellent character tenor John Kriter played the crass marriage broker Goro with equal parts sugar and vinegar.
These members of the COC's second cast (which also included Cameron Sierra Douglas as Butterfly's silent child) were such a compelling ensemble, I left wondering whether the opening-night crew could be any better. Everyone on stage got attentive support from conductor Derek Bate and the COC Orchestra, which sounded particularly good in the dark opening music in Act 3. That's the only point at which Puccini allows the orchestra to clearly forecast the story's outcome. By then, we in the audience already knew that this show was a winner, and its star as well.
The COC's Madama Butterfly continues at the Four Seasons Centre through Nov. 3.