Soprano soars in her first 'Butterfly'
By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff, 1/14/2003

NEWTON - Maria Ferrante broke my heart Sunday night. Or, through her, Puccini's Madama Butterfly did.

The soprano from Worcester sang the part for the first time in a concert performance with the Newton Symphony. Her voice is light for the role but ideal for the character of the trusting little geisha. She boasts a plausible physical appearance, and she's a true singing actress - her eyes and hands and body know how to sing, and with her voice she can act.
Ferrante works in the great Italian tradition of this role, singing off the words and making every phrase meaningful. Ferrante doesn't imitate anybody but finds the truth of each utterance within herself, from the childlike prattle of the beginning, through the torrential love music, into the growth of a woman who realizes that it is better to die with honor than to live without. The combination of delicacy and intensity she brought to many phrases brought tears to my eyes.

She paced herself very well for the first time out, though you wished she could have dispensed with the music stand and let herself move. Occasionally, too, she forgot that a soprano in this role must be as ruthlessly calculating as an IRS auditor - yet never show it. At moments when she got carried away, her jaw waggled, her tone destabilized, and a couple of high notes were not as secure as she knows how to make them. But in her honesty, imagination, and investment, she was infinitely superior to the last Butterfly I saw at the Met (a large Russian lady who sang in Esperanto and fired off high notes like a cannon, and with about as much feeling).

The Newton Symphony's music director, Jeffrey Rink, assembled a strong supporting cast. Tenor Benjamin Warschawski, the caddish Lieutenant Pinkerton, has been singing at the New York City Opera, and he's a real find. He's got a dark, burnished, secure voice; taste; passion; and even an interest in acting. Baritone David Murray was a solid tower of strength as the conscience-stricken US Consul Sharpless; what a good singer and crafty actor he is. As the faithful maid Suzuki, Susan Forrester began with quavering tones but sang herself into voice by the time the chips were down in the last act.

Rink assigned the smaller roles to members of the new generation of locally based singers. Outstanding for vocal gift was bass David Cushing as the Imperial Commissioner; tenor Vince Wolfsteiner also brought a better voice to the marriage broker Goro than we usually hear. Other particularly good performances came from Dana Whiteside as Prince Yamadori and Carol Mastrodomenico as Kate Pinkerton. The Newton Choral Society sounded beautiful, Butterfly's entrance floating over our heads from the back of the sold-out auditorium.
The orchestra did not always sound completely secure, but the musicians played with heart and spirit, and they were in safe hands with Rink, whose work was authoritative and flexible; he commands the style of this kind of Italian opera.
The performance was videotaped for showing on local-access television in a couple of months. It would, therefore, have been helpful to have a stage director to straighten out a few things. Butterfly, for example, should never have left the stage during the Humming Chorus. All we wanted to do was gaze on her loving, hopeful face and weep.

Presented by the Newton Symphony Orchestra
Jeffrey Rink, music director
At: Rashi Auditorium Sunday night.
This story ran on page of the Boston Globe on 1/14/2003.
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