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Three great things about Golden Gate Opera’s “Madama Butterfly” 

Classical Music Review

By David Hirzel, Tuesday, November 11, 2014

“In having seen the opera, in this way, I find my life that much the fuller”

As is occasionally the case with my posts here, this one comes after the close of Golden Gate Opera‘s very short run of “Madama Butterfly” (two performances in one weekend, now ended) and can’t have much impact on filling seats. However, here are three things that made this performance particularly memorable.

1. Although the producer’s pre-performance comments from the stage included an apologia for a solo pianist (Andrew Dixon ) filling in for the orchestra, this one fact, this substitution added instead a wholly unexpected and marvelous aspect. For some of us, especially us novices in the art of opera-appreciation, there is already almost too much going on for our brains to accommodate: a story of great drama told in a completely foreign language, superb acting in a uniquely operatic manner, beautiful vocal arias and duets, costume, staging, backdrop. . . . By taking out 39 pieces of orchestra, there is that much more mental capacity to take in all these others. For me, this was an enhancement, not a detriment.

2. The libretto in English was not posted for all to view. For reasons just cited, my brain was not distracted from the performance. Reading is reading, it is not watching, it is not listening, it is not feeling. This allows the philistine opera-goer’s mind to pay attention to the drama unfolding before him, rather than reading and then interpreting as the show goes along. By filling in the intellectual gaps with the content of his own imagination, the listener becomes a part of the creative process, in a way one with Puccini, and the singers. A much better way, I think, to absorb the story, the drama, and Puccini’s memorable, often familiar music.

3. While a full house was missed for this matinee, and thousands of potential audience missed their opportunity to enjoy this wonderful opera—“A True Story: A diary, a novel a play”—in masterful performance, right here in San Rafael, those who did come had a chance to meet the performers in the Green Room after the show. You just don’t get this everywhere.

Among those performers in the Sunday matinee (11/9/14) were Miwako Isano as a lovely and poignant Madama Butterfly, and Alexandra Jerinic as her faithful maidservant Suzuki. The friendship between these two characters is the cement that holds the whole opera together, no better shown than in the stunning duet that ends Act One. David Gustafson‘s Pinkerton was tender and loving on his wedding day, and passionately distraught holding his one-time bride as her sad life passed away. Special note also for the set, the backdrop scrim and the lighting showing the passage of dusk to dawn.

In having seen the opera, in this way, I find my life that much the fuller.

My suggestions to you:
1. If you have a chance to see this or any opera with less than a full orchestra, view it as an opportunity rather than as a loss, a chance to see the familiar an an entirely new light
2. A streaming libretto does not necessarily add to your understanding of the story or your appreciation of the show.
3. When you can meet the cast and crew, take advantage. There is much more to them, their lives and yours than the show you have must shared.


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Lincoln & Booth “Well Worth The Risk” 

The Ark Beat
March 22, 2012
By Carol Benet, Arts Writer 

“New operas are a rarity. New operas in Marin and by Marin composers are more of a rarity.”

The Golden Gate Opera’s founder artistic director and general manager, Roberta Wain- Becker, is a brave woman in staging a new one. Since 2005, she has produced many of the old chestnuts that are a natural for bringing in local audiences, but a new opera such as “Lincoln & Booth,” no matter how historical it is, is a hard sell. Yet historical operas are a way to entertain and instruct, as Horace declared. Much of Italian opera is historical and all was new at one point.

Wain-Becker’s genius in choosing a fine cast and technical team is one of the ingredients for success. The conductor, Geoffrey Gallegos, the young cast of excellent singers and concert pianist Temirzhan Yerzhanov, who played the only accompaniment over the three hours, are important finds.

“Lincoln & Booth” was created by Mill Valley composer John Cepelak and his wife, librettist Christina Rose. The story puts a new light on the Lincoln-Booth saga by taking well-known sequences from the life of President Abraham Lincoln and wife Mary Todd, two of their sons, the conspirators and a few of the other politicians and workers – and by adding little-known vignettes.

Starting with the Lincolns entering the White House for the first time, one of Mary Todd’s (Jacqueline Goldgorin) tasks is to meet with Elizabeth Keckley (Alexandra Sessler), her black decorator. Both the Lincolns were accepting of others no matter what their race or position. This was a theme repeated during the opera, especially in the bits about Lincoln insisting that his aide, Sam Everyman (Jason Sarton), call him “Abe.”

Tiburon residents ably performed in the work. Noah Griffin played the part of Frederick Douglass, while two boy sopranos, Bel Aire Elementary School students Jack O’Neill and Bobby MocInerney played the roles of Lincoln’s sons Willie and Tad, respectively. Tiburon’s Dr. Gideon Y. Sorokin was one of the sponsors of the opera.

Stage director Edna Garabedian and costume designer Wendy Kauffman provided a colorful action-filled show. Set designer Amilocar Farraro and his crew did a miraculous job of creating the White House, the gala ball and the Ford Theater on the large, barren stage of Angelico Hall at Dominican University, where the opera had just two public performances on March 10-11. To its credit, Angelico Hall – another good choice by Wain-Becker – is an acoustically excellent music venue.

Watch for the Golden Gate Opera’s productions and programs in the schools. For more information, visit

Arts writer Carol Benet, a Belvedere resident since 1969, earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from UP Berkeley. She has been with The Ark since 1975.

Check out some of our other reviews for Lincoln & Booth


Madama Butterfly’ lights up Marin stageScreen Shot 2014-10-11 at 12.30.44 PM


Marinscope Newspapers

By Cari Lynn Pace, Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A full-scale opera, complete with stage settings, costumes, musicians and competent singers, takes years and major funding. San Francisco has a huge and well-established base of opera patrons; Marin’s tiny nonprofit Golden Gate Opera does not. Its challenge is to bring opera to local stages and schools, affordably. Since 1997 it’s been the inspiration and tireless goal of Sausalito’s Roberta Becker, the company’s general director, as well as the volunteers who share the dream. Last Saturday and Sunday showed off the fruits of their labors when “Madama Butterfly” took the stage at the Marin Showcase Theatre. The packed audience of 300 was enraptured by Puccini’s well-known and sorrowful tale of a geisha longing to enter the new world of American life. Although most of the large cast and crew were veteran opera performers imported from outside Marin, Golden Gate Opera also included local talent in this production.

Monti Zanetti of San Rafael sang the role of the Imperial Commissioner, while Rafael Mollina of Tiburon made his debut as Prince Yamadori. Tiny Sophie Anne Loder of San Rafael stole the scene as she acted the role of Madame Butterfly’s 2-year-old child. Laura Holter and Madelyn Menon of San Rafael joined Kit Murphy of Mill Valley as exquisitely kimonoed friends joined in song. The servants, played by Greenbrae residents Brian Harris and Michael Amara, were convincing in their roles.

Although the lovely tea-house setting had to be minimal on the small stage, the audience appreciated the detailed Japanese costume design done by Tracy Bell Redig of Novato, and the performers’ makeup done by Andrea Pino of San Rafael.

Act I introduced the American Naval Lieutenant, played by handsome tenor Zachary Sheely of San Francisco, and his arranged geisha wife, Cio-Cio San, called Madame Butterfly, played by diminutive soprano Miwako Isano from Japan (via Sacramento). Such marriages were temporary situations, renewable by husbands on a monthly basis.

Act II is three years later, as Madame Butterfly awaits the return of her husband’s ship. The audience is moved as she sings the familiar aria “Un Bel Di (One Beautiful Day).” Although her friends warn her she has been abandoned, she remains stubbornly devoted to her husband and their child she is sure he will love.

Act III begins with a visually stunning dance performed by three geishas in authentic kimonos, the fluttering fan mesmerizing, like the wings of a butterfly. The plot intensifies as the truth unfolds: the Lieutenant has returned with an American wife to claim his child.

Madame Butterfly’s caring and protective maid, sung by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Kosharsky, showed outstanding vocal range. The American Consul role was expertly sung by baritone by Limuel Forgey. Sadly, no one can save Madame Butterfly from the opera’s tragic ending. As the curtain fell, the audience was on its feet with applause. Golden Gate Opera will continue to attract supporters and volunteers with productions such as this.


MARIN Independent Journal:

Social Scene 1
Social Scene 2
Independent Journal – February 7, 2012
Independent Journal – February 24, 2012
Independent Journal – March 1, 2012
Independent Journal – March 8, 2012
Independent Journal – March 13, 2012
Marin Scope – February 29, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle – March 8