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Lyric Opera of Chicago 

When: Sat., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m., Wed., Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m., Sat., Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., Tue., Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m., Fri., Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m., Mon., Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m., Thu., Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m., Sun., Jan. 18, 2 p.m., Wed., Jan. 21, 2 p.m., Sat., Jan. 24, 7:30 p.m. and Thu., Jan. 29, 2 p.m. 2009
In 2007, when I wrote about Ravinia’s concert performance of Madama Butterfly, I predicted soprano Patricia Racette would be perfect in the title role. I couldn’t see her then, but in Lyric Opera’s current production she’s even better than I imagined. She plays Cio-Cio-san, the 15-year-old bride of American naval officer B.F. Pinkerton (tenor Frank Lopardo), with a rare combination of sizzling intensity and unforced naturalism. She begins the opera coy and charming, with a sweet, lush sound that opens up magnificently during her love duet with Pinkerton. When the second act starts, she’s spent three years awaiting his return, and she sings with a fuller voice befitting a more mature, less lighthearted woman. Yet hope keeps her alive, and as she tries to persuade her skeptical but devoted servant, Suzuki (mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner), that he’ll come back, the sung dialogue flows so seamlessly into “Un Bel Di Vedremo” (“One Fine Day We Shall See”) that you might not realize one of the world’s most famous arias is beginning. When Pinkerton finally does arrive, it’s to take their child back to the States with his new American wife, and Racette’s portrayal of Butterfly’s devastation is utterly gripping. The closing aria, “Tu, Tu, Piccolo Iddio” (“You, You, My Little God”), when her young son briefly interrupts her suicide, is one of opera’s great moments, and her delivery is majestic—raw, powerful, and as enormous as her grief. Sir Andrew Davis conducts; the production closes January 29. —Barbara Yaross



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