Danielle Pastin is Madame Butterfly for Knoxville Opera

Esther BlevinsOur Town Arts

Long before there was “M. Butterfly” and “Miss Saigon” on Broadway, Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” presented the world with a heartbreaking look at a clash of cultures. The gripping, tragic story of the betrayed Japanese geisha girl and her American husband is a perfect “first opera” for those looking for gorgeous music and a riveting theatrical experience in the magnificent Tennessee Theatre.

“The opera’s fundamental theme – the challenge of living an honorable life despite whatever may befall us – speaks to everyone of all ages and cultures,” says Knoxville Opera Maestro Brian Salesky. “The audience can’t help but be inspired to recall and examine their own life choices as the story progresses.”

Knoxville Opera’s mainstage opera season opens with Giacomo Puccini’s ever-popular and beloved “Madame Butterfly,” starring Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Pastin as the betrayed Butterfly. Praised by Opera News as having “one of the most sheerly beautiful voices on the scene today,” Pastin made her Met debut as Masha in “The Queen of Spades” and more recently performed there as Nedda in “Pagliacci.”

After an absence of eight years, “Madame Butterfly” returns to the stage of the Tennessee Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27. Knoxville Opera’s luxury casting includes tenor Richard Troxell, who starred as Lt. Pinkerton in Frédéric Mitterand’s award-winning movie version of the opera. Baritone Sean Anderson, who has previously appeared here in seven comic roles, will bring his gravitas to the role of the U.S. Consul Sharpless.

Mezzosoprano Lisa Chavez, one of America’s newest fiery Carmens, will make her Knoxville Opera debut as Suzuki, Butterfly’s faithful companion. David Crawford, currently appearing in the Met’s production of “Macbeth,” will return home to Knoxville to portray Butterfly’s malevolent Uncle Bonzo.

“For over 100 years, ‘Madame Butterfly’ has been one of the world’s most popular operas,” says Salesky. “The combination of its heartbreaking story and Puccini’s dramatic music filled with authentic Japanese melodies never fails to bring tears to everyone’s eyes. I am thrilled that we have a superb cast to bring this brilliant work to life.”

The production, sponsored by Dr. Sharon Lord, will be staged by Brian Deedrick, former artistic director of Edmonton Opera, who has directed “Mefistofele” and seven other memorable productions in Knoxville. Salesky, the company’s executive and artistic director, will conduct the production, which includes the participation of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and many students from the University of Tennessee’s graduate opera program. Performances are presented in Italian with projected English translations/lyrics on a screen above the stage.

Opera tickets, starting at $25 for adults and $15 for students, may be purchased online at KnoxvilleOpera.com or by calling the box office at 865-524-0795, ext. 1, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Knoxville Opera will present Charles Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” Feb. 14 and 16, 2020, and wrap up the season with the Tennessee premiere of “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” on May 1 and 3, 2020.

Salesky is excited about not only the music but also the messages of the season.

“Eternal themes of so-called civilized society permeate this season, starting with the clash of foreign cultures in ‘Butterfly,’ continuing with the intolerance of family feuds in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and the horrific injustice of slavery in ‘Harriet Tubman,’” he says.

The ‘Butterfly Ball’

Members of the principal cast of “Madame Butterfly” may also be heard at Knoxville Opera’s “Butterfly Ball” on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Knoxville Museum of Art. The black-tie Opera Ball is the Knoxville Opera Guild’s biggest annual fundraiser, with proceeds assisting the company in serving tens of thousands of East Tennessee students and adults with live opera performances and 100 education/community programs.

The evening begins with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. Pastin, Troxell, Chavez and Anderson will perform, as will Jeanine Fuller and Dwight Hardin. Dinner, dancing and live and silent auctions will fill the evening with fun and entertainment. Tickets for the ball are also available online or by phone (see above).

Esther Blevins manages marketing, media and grants for the Knoxville Opera.

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