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Romantic Madame Butterfly Coming to L.A. Opera

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I admit it, I am an utter romantic. Now, before, forever. I am a sucker for a great love story, either in the movies, the opera, the stage, or in real life. As a filmmaker, I have tried to inject that romantic element in all of the movies that I have produced, so when Billie Holiday met Louis McKay in Lady Sings The Blues, we interjected the scene where a flapper-clad Diana Ross as Billie steps into a dark night club and sees the white-suited Billy Dee Williams looking like a dark Clark Gable... and everyone swooned in the theatres when it played. Even the curmudgeon comic, W.C. Fields (Rod Steiger), softens when he first meets Carlotta Monti (Valerie Perrine), who will become his loving mistress for the rest of his life. We added a scene in Chasen's nightclub where he finally has to admit (to himself as well as to her) that he has fallen in love.

When I produced a Broadway play, Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, starring the then-unknown Al Pacino, I begged the playwright, Don Petersen, to add a scene in the Riker's Island prison where the two young leads admit their affection for each other in the midst of the tragic setting. He did... and the play went on to win Pacino a Tony award and start his career. In real life, I wear my heart on my sleeve, cry often at touching scenes, and could care less at any criticism. My Huffington readers have become aware over the past few years of my love for opera, especially the moving works of Verdi and Puccini. When asked about my favorite operas, I am torn between La Traviata, La Boheme, Carmen... and then I always end up by saying, it has to be Madame Butterfly.

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The lovely geisha, Cio-Cio-San, meets the U.S. Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I immediately became a member of the fledgling opera group and went to the first... but I was impatient for the second opera of that inaugural season... for it was Puccini's Madame Butterfly. As I have told before in these pages, my father was a tough blue-collar guy who for some infallible reason loved opera and took me to them since I was a kid. (He, too, was a romantic at heart... according to my mother.) So I have seen a dozen productions of that opera over the years and even dated a lovely girl who once sang the lead role.

Why Butterfly? Well, the heartbreaking tragedy of the beautiful geisha, Cio-Cio-San, who falls madly in love with the caddish American naval lieutenant who is unworthy of that love, is heart-rendering. Placido Domingo, general manager of the L.A.Opera, whom I just wrote about here in Huffington/L.A. in my sizzling review of his The Two Foccari, is quoted as saying: "With its exquisite musical beauty and atmospheric drama, Madame Butterfly has long been one of the most popular of all operas. It has been the most frequently-performed in our repertoire in the years since that first performance. I hope that our audience will enjoy this beautiful production of one of the world's most loved operas."

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The beautiful soprano, Oksana Dyka, plays the lovely Japanese geisha in this production.

Opening night is November 17 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue) and it continues in six performances through December 9, so I am giving you plenty of notice to acquire a few tickets for Puccini's glorious masterpiece, which I often describe as an opera for those who don't like opera. It is sung in Italian but the translated English titles are projected where you can easily read them. What is particularly exciting about this production is that it is an entirely new one to me and the local audience, coming from San Francisco, a hot opera town.

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Another scene from the opera.

The performances will be conducted by the resident conductor, Grant Gershon, and directed by Ron Daniels, who made his L.A. Opera debut staging the 2010 world premiere of Il Postino, which you may remember I reviewed ecstatically. (That was the wonderful film-cum-opera about a young Italian postman who is encouraged in his love by the real, famed Chilean poet -- played by Placido -- living in his little seaside village. It has just come out on DVD.) Cio-Cio-San will be sung by a stunning Ukrainian soprano, Oksana (don't you love that name) Dyka, whom I didn't see when she debuted here in Eugene Onegin. American tenor Brandon Jovanovich returns as the faithless naval officer Pinkerton. Bass-baritone Eric Owens sings the role of the American consul, and mezzo-soprana Milena Kitic, whom I remember as a memorable Carmen in 2004, plays the handmaiden Suzuki. This production is made possible by generous gifts from Brindell Roberts Gottlieb and Eva and Marc Stern (Chairman of the L.A. Opera), done in honor of Stephen Rountree and his extraordinary leadership of the opera.

The other performances are Sunday, November 25 at 2 p.m., Wed., November 28 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, December 6 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday December 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $19 (yes!!) up and can be gotten in person at the boxoffice, by phone at (213) 972-8001, or online at www.LAOpera.com.

See you there, and if I am crying, give me your handkerchief.

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