Voices in Flight: Puccini’s Beloved Opera Madama Butterfly Comes To Jacksonville

Madama Butterfly, Opera, FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville, Florida

Giorgio Lalov is a time traveler, navigating the distance from past to present where classical opera collides with the modern world. Dressing the stage and directing the voices that deliver the world’s most prestigious concertos, Lalov is firmly rooted in opera’s golden age when composers like Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart gave life to timeless works. As founder of an established opera company with over 5,000 full-scale productions to his credit, Lalov works to share these masterpieces with contemporary audiences.

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The FSCJ Artist Series presents Puccini’s beloved opera Madama Butterfly for one night only February 16th at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to directing the performance, Lalov created the set and costumes for this desperate tale of love and loss between an American Naval captain and the young Japanese girl he leaves behind.

Pinkerton is exploring the world in pursuit of pleasure, at once declaring “Life is not worth living if I can’t win the best and fairest of each country.” The captain is taken by the exquisite beauty of teenage geisha Cio-Cio-San, known as Madame Butterfly, and marries her on sight. She is equally enamored by his American ways and the dream of a new modern life away from poverty. But Pinkerton is looking ahead to the day he will marry “a real wife, a wife from America” and leaves Cio-Cio-San behind.

Madama Butterfly, Opera, FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville, Florida
Three years pass as Cio-Cio-San pines for her lost love, living alone with her servant Suzuki and young child, singing of her hope of Pinkerton’s fateful return. Suzuki tries to convince Butterfly to relinquish her dream before his ship finally returns. The dawn following Pinkerton’s return tests the boundaries of honor and shame, and Butterfly is forced to make a heartbreaking choice as Pinkerton is flooded with memories of his time with the young woman.

Madama Butterfly, Opera, FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville, Florida“Japan was a very poor country at the time. Because of that poverty, people were selling Japanese girls of 13,14, and 15,” says Lalov. “Life was very difficult at that time and why this happened at the end of the opera.” When translating Puccini’s masterful works to the stage, Lalov is gives delicate consideration to creating an atmosphere authentic to the time. The costumes for Madama Butterfly, which made its world premiere in Teatro alla Scala, Milan in 1904, are representative of both the period and culture.

“I follow only what the composer had in mind. I have an obligation and respect for the composer. I never do anything that would disrespect that work,” says Lalov. “The costumes are very Japanese with kimonos, wigs, and flowers, but the music is central to the story. The music is very beautiful, but the story is very sad. It’s a human story,” says Lalov, a classically trained opera singer who made his stage debut at 26 before enduring a tragedy of his own.

Madama Butterfly, Opera, FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville, Florida

Lalov grew up in Bulgaria with parents who were educated patrons of the arts. As a child, he loved to sing and would climb up a tree and sing for hours in his small village. His mother was a folk singer who hoped that her son would follow his father into the medical field. “That was not for me,” he says. “I loved opera and singing. It was in my heart and soul from the beginning of my life.” He studied opera at the Bulgarian National Conservatory of Music in Sofia in 1976. While on tour in Italy with a choir from the University, he auditioned for and was accepted into the International Young Artists Training Program, a prestigious training program for young opera singers at La Scala, Milan. He made his stage debut at just 26, the same time his mother was dying of cancer.

Madama Butterfly, Opera, FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville, Florida

“I had to leave Italy and go back to Bulgaria. The opera I was performing was not a popular part, so it was very difficult to find a replacement, someone who knew the music,” recalls Lalov. “Thank God she survived and lived for two weeks after I came back.”

The experience left an indelible mark on Lalov. When he returned to Italy, he was engaged to tour with a small opera company throughout Europe. It was on that tour that he met the late Yves Josse, a former ballet divo who would become his business partner. Lalov abandoned his dreams of being an opera singer and devoted himself to a new role as Artistic Director/Stage Director of Teatro Lirico D’Europa, which became the most successful opera touring company in Europe.

Fluent in Bulgarian, French, Russian, Italian, and English, Lalov uses his gift of languages to communicate with promising young singers from across the world. He explores the universities and elite programs that help develop young singers and gives them the wings to flourish and carry on the opera tradition. “I know two things: languages and opera. In Madama Butterfly, my soprano is Puerto Rican, the tenor is Australian but lives in New York, and the baritone is from the United States. There are lots of singers hungry to perform with beautiful voices. Many people have to abandon what they love to do. I’m very, very happy to not have to do that but today it is very difficult,” says Lalov.

“I want to thank the people who continue to support opera, who book opera and keep opera alive. I’m very happy that Jacksonville is making the effort to bring us back here and I hope they will continue to do so. The audience will be very pleased. I love the opera very much and I’ve done productions all over the world. This one is very touching. At the end, even people who don’t care about opera will cry.”

For tickets and more information, visit www.fscjartistseries.org.

About Liza Mitchell

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