First Coast Opera presents ‘Madama Butterfly’

Local company aims to make opera accessible to all ages


Curtis Tucker has heard all the misconceptions people have about opera.

“There are all those old opera myths,” said Tucker, the artistic director for First Coast Opera. “There’s ‘Oh, there’s gonna be a fat lady’ or ‘I can’t understand what’s going on’ or ‘I don’t know what to wear.’”

Tucker and his ensemble did their best to dispel those myths last weekend, when First Coast Opera presented a fully-staged production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” Presented Jan. 6 and Jan. 8 at Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium in St. Augustine, the production featured a professional cast of 20 performers accompanied by a live orchestra.

As English subtitles were projected above the stage, the performers brought to life the classic tale of a young Japanese geisha who welcomes the chance to wed a brash American naval officer stationed in Nagasaki. The American, however, fails to recognize the legal or cultural significance of their traditional Japanese union and returns home to take a “real” American bride, resulting in tragedy.

Focusing as it does on themes of cultural misunderstandings and the ways in which Americans are perceived by citizens of other nations, “Madama Butterfly” seems as timely today as when it debuted in 1904. It is that type of universal experience, Tucker said, at which opera excels in communicating.

“Opera is all about emotion,” he said. “It combines all art forms, with the music really heightening the emotions. If we do our jobs on stage, the audience has really felt something.”

Now in its 17th season, First Coast Opera recently was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support its next production: a double bill featuring two courtroom comedies. On March 16 and 18, First Coast Opera will present Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” alongside “The Trial of B.B. Wolf.” Composed by Tucker and written by Nelson Sheeley, the family-friendly opera puts the Big Bad Wolf on trial for his notorious exploits.

It’s a reflection, Tucker said, of First Coast Opera’s goal of making opera accessible to all ages and all audiences.

“We’re trying to grow the company,” he said, “and bring opera back to what it originally was – an art form for the people.”