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UNT music takes center stage in opera production

UNT music takes center stage in opera production

B.F. Pinkerton (Nathan Schafer) gloats to Consul Sharpless (Mason Jarboe) about his new wife Butterfly. This is the first Act in Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly, performed at the Lyric Theatre at UNT.

UNT music takes center stage in opera production
January 22
18:33 2017

Travis McCallum | Staff Writer

Abuse of power, position and sexual predation as well as American imperialism and its influence on the nature of love, fidelity and faithfulness in Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of the 19th century are the central themes of UNT’s latest opera performance.  Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” performed by UNT opera this past Friday, is a love story that is heartbreaking and tragic on one side, and uplifting on another.

Based on true events, a 15-year-old Japanese girl is thrust into a marriage with American Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, played by tenor Nathan Schafer. Pinkerton and Madam Butterfly, played by soprano Brittany Jones, join hands to live happily together. In her naive devotion, Butterfly gives up her religion and is renounced from her family, blind to the shady laws governing her country.

“I’m getting a wife for 999 years, but have the option of cancelling every month,” Pinkerton said.

In a time where divorce is as elastic as rubber, Pinkerton leaves Butterfly, only to return years later with an American wife to rob the Japanese woman of her only son.  Broken and neglected, the illusion of hope she once held for his loving return is shattered and Butterfly stabs her fragile existence with a dagger.

“He who cannot live with honor, must die with honor,” she said.

The opera differs from other musical performances at UNT. Accounting senior Jose Vega said he didn’t know anything about the show and was pleasantly surprised to find it after his girlfriend asked him to tag along.

“I like the scene,” Vega said. “It’s very poetic, [even] just the way they pose.”

Music is a large part of UNT, including opera performances.  The arts play an important role in society by challenging the way people think and healing their hearts and minds, according to music director Stephen Dubberly.  “Madama Butterfly” is one such example. Opera combines the power of various media, including the visuals of theater, the sound elements of vocal voice and the orchestra, and channels these elements with the goal of changing human lives and those of the performers themselves.

“It makes us question the world around us in ways we didn’t know we needed to question,” Stage Director Hilary Taylor said. “And just see through things in a different lens. And it causes us to reflect on our own situations and our own lives and gives the audience something to walk away with as well.”

The ultimate goal through the communication of song and acting in opera is to give the audience something to take away, whether that be a moral to a story, self-reflection or a single character’s ability to make a person change his or her mind.

When Dubberly asked Jones if she wanted the part of Butterfly last May, she was ecstatic to fill the dream role of one of the most top performed shows in the world.

The show was staged in two days by Taylor, who also tackled the costumes, lights and set. This was a difficult feat because there are usually 6 to 8 weeks in an educational environment and only 1 to 2 weeks in the professional world to prepare.  Four hours of music and six hours of staging filled those two days with intense rehearsal. Jones was given more time to solidify and grow the character on her own due to the importance of the character.

Of the three hour and 30 minute show, Jones sings for three hours and 5 minutes. Schafer, on the other hand, sings for only one hour and 15 minutes. He joked that it is nice the show isn’t called “Pinkerton.”

Madam Butterfly (Brittany Jones) admires her beauty from a keepsake box her faithful servant Suzuki (Jenny Ivánovna) holds for her. This is the first Act in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, performed at the Lyric Theatre at UNT. Travis McCallum

That humble nature shrouds the difficulty all the singers put into learning the Italian opera.  Not only do they need to understand the language they sing, but they need to be able translate it into English from their head and know their partner’s lines too. Schafer only had two months to learn the lines for Pinkerton as opposed to Jones’ year of preparation.

Challenges faced the cast members outside the time constraints. Hitting the high C (C6) note during Act 1 was a yearlong process for Jones.

“I would open my mouth and nothing would come out,” she said.

Her teacher Steve Austin said to just open her mouth and get out of the way. The psychological fear to make Butterfly so small, closed and diminutive was so out of character for a “big old honk of note,” it forced Jones to step out of her own boundaries and embrace the unrealistic sound a 15-year-old could never make.

UNT opera plays an important role in society. For students who struggle with performance, the best advice is to never give up, Schafer said.

“For an aspiring opera singer to be able to say absolutely every word of your translation without any help, [it is a] night and day difference,” he said. “Because when you watch someone sing, you want them to captivate you with what they are doing.”

Jones is inspired by US President Calvin Coolidge and often refers to his knowledge when she’s preparing for a large role.

“Persistence,” Jones said as she shared a famous line from Coolidge. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Featured Image: B.F. Pinkerton (Nathan Schafer) gloats to Consul Sharpless (Mason Jarboe) about his new wife Butterfly. This is the first Act in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, performed at the Lyric Theatre at UNT. Travis McCallum

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Travis McCallum

Travis McCallum

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