JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted:
Thursday, October 19, 2006 11:00 pm
Eilana Lappalainen says it feels good to become
someone else, even if it's a 15-year-old girl
smitten with a cad.
In this case, the
teenager girl is Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly),
a character in the famous Giacomo Puccini opera
who vocalizes her sorrow in some of the most
beautiful music ever performed. As tragedies go,
this one is fairly simple. An American Naval
officer, Capt. Pinkerton, falls for Butterfly,
not out of love, but out of lust and conquest.
Infatuated with the young geisha, attracted by
her naiveté as well as her beauty, he sets out
to win her. "I must pursue her even though I
damage her wings," is his philosophy of
After giving birth to their
child, she waits three years for his return,
only to find that he doesn't want her anymore.
She is devastated by the news and commits hara
Lappalainen said she's lost count
of how many times she's performed the lead in "Madama
Butterfly." She has performed the role in
several countries, from Germany to Greece, and
in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.
international debut was 'Butterfly' in Mexico
City at the beautiful opera house there," she
said. "Sometimes I've had performances where
there is silence after the aria. And that makes
me happy. For that audience, it was more than
just a show, it's believing in what's happening
Rimrock Opera artistic director
Douglas Nagel said Lappalainen is one of the few
sopranos he knows who can perform the grueling
part with the ease that Lappalainen can.
"You need someone with cords of steel for this
role," Nagel said. "I never even think about
whether Eilana can handle this because she's
such a pro."
Lappalainen said she often
immerses herself so completely in her roles that
it's difficult to climb back into just being
"I love the roles where you have
to give everything you have. Butterfly goes
through such transitions. I love roles like this
where someone gets to die, the psychological
stresses of it."
Lappalainen will perform at
Carnegie Hall in January.
Pinkerton, the dashing Navy officer who deceives
Butterfly, is played by Christopher Bengochea,
who was raised in Brockton. Bengochea said he's
not used to playing such a despicable character.
He's more used to playing the good guy, like his
role as Rodolfo in "La Boheme."
Pinkerton is a large role for the tenor, who is
ecstatic about performing with someone of the
stature of Lappalainen. Bengochea is a member of
the resident company of Opera San Jose, where
Lappalainen got her start, and will perform the
title role in "Romeo et Juliette" this season
with that company.
"I'm a sheepherder's
son from Brockton. I didn't think I'd ever do
something like this," Bengochea said.
started his music career as a pianist, but was
smitten with the opera bug after seeing a
Pavarotti performance. While earning his degree
in piano performance at Montana State
University, studying on a Future Farmers of
America scholarship, a college professor
involved in opera took him under his wing.
"What other art form allows you to get up
and act like an idiot, fall in love on stage and
exude all of your emotions? This is the perfect
job," Bengochea said.
Quartuccio, assistant director conductor of the
San Jose Chamber Orchestra, is musical director
and Nagel serves as producer and stage director.
Also performing in "Madama Butterfly" are
baritone Jan Michael Kliewer, of Powell, Wyo.,
who appears as Sharpless, the American Consul
who sees the reality of Butterfly's plight and
the futility of intervention. Kliewer last
performed in Rimrock Opera in 2005 as Giorgio
Germont in "La Traviata." Kilewer teaches music
and opera at Northwest College in Powell and is
an active soloist in concert and opera.
Soprano Laura Twelves sings the role of Suzuki,
Butterfly's companion and maid. Twelves appeared
in Rimrock Opera's school tour production of
"The Night Harry Stopped Smoking" and currently
serves as Rimrock Opera's outreach tour
director. She is also a guest artist with Opera
San Jose for the 2006-07 season.
Lombardozzi, Dennis Rupp and Bret Weston also
appear in the production. Kevin Schweigert and
Amy Logan head up the adult chorus.
David Grubbs/Gazette Staff
Make-up artist Sophia Smith
places a human-hair wig on Eilana Lappalainen.
A make-up artist applies Lappalainen's
geisha makeup in preparation for a photo shoot
for "Madama Butterfly.” Lappalainen is playing
the title role in the Rimrock Opera production
next week at the Alberta Bair Theater.
From left, Jan Michael
Kliewer, Laura Twelves and Christopher Bengochea
in "Madama Butterfly."
David Grubbs/Gazette Staff
Bengochea, left and Eilana Lappalainen in Madam
Performances give 'Butterfly' flight
Jaci Webb Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Sunday,
October 29, 2006 12:00 am
A tiny American flag stuffed into a pot of
traditional Japanese cherry blossoms epitomizes
the clash of two cultures in Rimrock Opera
Company's production of Puccini's "Madama
That basic conflict exists in
every aspect of this story of two lovers, in
their ideas about love, marriage, religion,
family, and ultimately death. In the opening
night performance Friday at the Alberta Bair
Theater, leads Christopher Bengochea as Lt.
Pinkerton and Eilana Lappalainen as Madama
Butterfly spun Puccini's brilliant score into
the ultimate conflict using gorgeous music to
weave such an ugly tale. A crowd of 950 took in
the first of two presentations of the classic
Tenor Bengochea, who was raised on
a sheep ranch near Brockton, was masterful at
evoking hatred in the first two acts, then
bringing the audience back around with his
pitiful lament in the final act. His final
beseeching cry of "Butterfly" in Act III won't
soon be forgotten.
who was raised in Canada and is of
Finnish-American heritage, showcased her years
of experience in the role of Madama Butterfly in
Friday night's performance. Vocally, she was
brilliant, and her movements as a geisha were
exacting from the bowed head to her shuffling,
dainty steps. She, too, was able to elicit a
strong reaction from the audience Friday night
as she changed from giddy bride to abandoned
The set and lighting were
stunning. In one sorrowful scene, where
Butterfly, her house maid Suzuki and Butterfly's
young child wait throughout the night for
Pinkerton to return, the light softly changes to
reflect the time of day. The luminous glow
creates beauty in a scene where the ugly reality
of Butterfly's plight is settling upon us.
Pinkerton's ship has returned, but he is in no
hurry to reunite with his Japanese bride.
Laura Twelves' expressive face and rich
vocals enhance her role as the faithful servant
Suzuki and it is through her that we feel some
of Butterfly's pain. A young Billings girl,
Sophia Writesel, played the part of Butterfly's
young son, Trouble.
There are signs in
Act I that what Pinkerton wants and what
Butterfly needs are oceans apart. Snippets of
military marches find their way into Puccini's
score in the first act as Pinkerton brazenly
goes about his plans to win Butterfly as his
wife, then head back to America to find an
"I must possess her even
if it damages her wings," Pinkerton tells the
U.S. Consul Sharpless, played by Rimrock Opera
veteran Jan Michael Kiliewer.
In a bit of
foreshadowing, Sharpless congratulates Pinkerton
on his fine life with "a girl in every port,"
but predicts an eventual "sadness in your heart"
because of his lifestyle.
Kiliewer plays the
difficult role of Sharpless with ease, becoming
the enabler to Pinkerton's brusque relationship
with Butterfly, then trying to help the teenage
geisha move on.
Billings native Gennard
Lombardozzi provides some comic relief to the
heavy story, flitting in and out for scenes as
the money-grabbing marriage broker. Dennis Rupp
makes the most of his few minutes on stage as
Butterfly's angry uncle Bonze, a Buddhist priest
who condemns Butterfly for forsaking her
religion to be with Pinkerton. His righteous
anger turns Butterfly's entire circle of friends
and family away from her, just when she needs
them the most.
Other veteran ROC
performers make nice additions to the cast,
notably Bret Weston as Prince Yamadori. Douglas
Nagel serves as stage director, and Anthony
Quartuccio is music director.