The original Madame Butterfly was a two-act disaster that premiered in 1904.
Composer Giacomo Puccini hauled it back in and rewrote extensively in time for another try later that year and in the two years that followed after another few revisions, came up with the three-hanky classic that audiences have appreciated ever since and Houston Grand Opera has lined up to be its next production this season.
The story begins with the marriage of Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly), a 15-year-old Japanese girl to American Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. He sees the marriage as a temporary stop on his worldwide travels; she thinks it's permanent. He splits and while she waits for his return, she has their baby.
Baritone Scott Hendricks plays Sharpless, the American consul who presides over Pinkerton's marriage and tries to make the officer take responsibility for his actions.
Texas native Hendricks who made his Metropolitan Opera debut a year ago in the role, says: "Sharpless is the moral conscience of the piece. He feels for Butterfly and warns Pinkerton not to take this lightly."
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And it only gets worse for the consul. He has to tell Butterfly her husband is not coming back to her and that Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate, want to take Butterfly's child.
"He's been put in an awful position by Pinkerton 's actions and his selfishness," Hendricks says. So why do people continue to turn out to see this opera, the most tragic one Puccini ever did? The music, Hendricks says, as well as the fact that the story remains relevant, with resentments continuing to this day over the actions of U.S. servicemen overseas (in 2012 two U.S. sailors were accused of raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa, he points out).
Hendricks, who says "It's nice not having to play a bad guy," sings a lot of Puccini and Verdi as well as new works. Houston favorite Ana Maria Martinez returns as Butterfly. Hendricks has a special reason to look forward to this HGO production. "My mom missed my Met debut so she'll be coming from San Antonio to see this."
Performances of Madame Butterfly are scheduled for January 23, 25, 28 and 31 and February 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Wednesday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information visit houstongrandopera.org or call 713-228-6737. $15- $354.