‘Butterfly’ harnesses city’s operatic talent

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Madama Butterfly cast members Priti Ghandi as Cio-Cio and Espen Elfers as Sorrow.

It won’t always take Opera Columbus three years to put together a grand opera production.

Three years removed from a financial crisis that nearly saw the company fold, Opera Columbus is back in the business of locally produced grand opera with its presentation of the Puccini masterwork Madama Butterfly this weekend.

In the interim, the company has been creative in its programming, from cooperative efforts with out-of-town opera companies such as Opera Atelier, to ramping up its educational offerings to developing a successful partnership with Shadowbox Live – but the intent always has been to produce classic opera on a grand scale.

“This marks the full return of Opera Columbus. That’s why it’s so significant,” General Manager Peggy Kriha Dye told The Beat.

“(Grand opera) is the biggest and most significant piece of Opera Columbus. Columbus is too big and too sophisticated a city not to have its own company.”

Dye’s leadership and the administrative strength of CAPA have kept the company pointed in this direction.

She assembled the creative team of director Crystal Manich, conductor Kostis Protopapas and assistant conductor Jason Hiester.

Madama Butterfly also is presented in partnership with the Ohio State University Department of Theatre and School of Music (which sees student involvement both on and backstage) and features live orchestral accompaniment by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

The singing cast is especially gratifying to Dye. Of a cast of 35, all but two call Columbus home.

“There is a sleeping cell of talent in this city that travels other places to perform,” Dye said. “Opera Columbus is giving them a chance to perform here.”

The opportunity is not lost on that talent, said Michael Kirkman, a member of the Madama Butterfly chorus who has been singing with Opera Columbus since 1991.

“This lays the groundwork for additional conversations about what we can do and how to do it, and what other opportunities can be created for local professional singers,” Kirkman said.

Olga Perez, a professional singer who has lived and worked in Phoenix and Pittsburgh and who now makes her home in Columbus, is singing one of the principal roles, Suzuki, the friend and confidant of Cio-Cio, the opera’s lead character.

“Suzuki is a new role for me, so this could create opportunities to sing this role in other productions,” she said, adding the benefit is not solely for the performers.

“To experience this high art, and experience it live – the singers, orchestra, costumes and sets, the drama – that’s really tremendous.”

“The performers are neighbors of the people in the audience,” John Nevergall, who sings Goro in this production, added.

“As artists, it’s ‘our thing,’ and we hope the city will also feel ownership.”

“It’s not without a lot of hard work from a lot of people that we’ve been able to match the vision we had for our ‘rebirth’ production,” Dye explained.

“We plan to present a production of highest quality to kick off what people can expect from Opera Columbus moving forward.”

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