The Marina del Rey Symphony pulls out all the stops for Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’

By Christina Campodonico

Soprano Daria Somers and tenor Christian Quilici play Butterfly  and Lt. Pinkerton

Soprano Daria Somers and tenor Christian Quilici play Butterfly
and Lt. Pinkerton

“Madame Butterfly” will be a big, bold and beautiful affair when it plays out against the seaside backdrop of Burton Chace Park.

“We have a huge orchestra. We have a huge staff. The costumes are over the top, a huge amount of props. It’s a very substantial piece of music and a substantial piece of theater,” says Maestro Frank Fetta, artistic director of the Marina del Rey Symphony. “It’s probably the biggest thing that’s happened at the marina.”

Next Thursday, a cast of 35 lifts their voices for a fully-staged production of “Madame Butterfly,” Puccini’s tragic opera about a Japanese geisha who marries and is then deserted by an American lieutenant.

Ten singers with national and international performance backgrounds will take on the opera’s principal roles, including UCLA-trained soprano Daria Somers as Butterfly, award-winning mezzo soprano Nandani Sinha as her servant Suzuki, and dramatic tenor Christian Quilici as Lt. Pinkerton. Director Zeffin Quinn Hollis, a baritone, makes a cameo appearance as The Bonze, a Buddhist priest who is Butterfly’s uncle.

“We have really star-quality people in our show,” Fetta says.

As well as behind the scenes. Costume designer Alyxx Iannetta is responsible for bringing the era of the opera — early 20th century Japan — to life with vividly colored Japanese kimonos. Sound designer Martyn Claes will be in charge of making sure that every voice in the chorus is heard.

“All the chorus is literally acting on the stage, so all have to be equipped with body microphones.  … Every character and chorister will have a number, and those numbers will be transmitted to Martyn so he turns on the right button at the right time,” says Fetta. “That’s going to be a real tangle of stage directions.”

While the opera is being sung in Italian, English subtitles and video footage will be projected onto large screens “so everybody can see it no matter where they’re sitting,” Fetta says.

Marina del Rey itself serves as a stunning backdrop for the opera, the action of which takes place overlooking Nagasaki Harbor in Japan.

Burton Chace Park is “a perfect setting for the opera to occur,” says Fetta. “We have the harbor right there.”

In fact, the timing of the performance is such that the sun should be setting by the time that Butterfly and Pinkerton rendezvous for their wedding night, says Fetta.

But the true star of the evening is Puccini’s timeless score.

“You’re amazed that it could come from the pen of someone,” says Fetta. “At our first musical rehearsal, the big ensembles, they just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God’ in utter amazement. After so many times, they’re still impressed by how dynamic the music is.”

Somers, who will be playing the opera’s titular heroine, embraces the physically, vocally and emotionally challenging nature of the role and Puccini’s music.

“It’s kind of deranged to say it’s one of the most fun roles to play, but it really is. She goes on such a journey, and the music is so beautiful, and watching her transform is always so interesting,” says Somers, who is looking forward to performing in Marina del Rey where she spent many an Independence Day as a child.

“It’s kind of like Hamlet or a Juliet,” she says. “The story is so strong from what happens to this woman and her evolution that, really, it tells you what you need to do. … Primarily it’s about a young girl growing up and finding her first love and being abandoned and having to make her own way. In essence, it’s actually a very universal story.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody that can be immune to this poor Japanese woman marrying this American,” Fetta told The Argonaut before this summer season began. “The poignancy and pathos of that theatrical situation — it tugs at your heartstrings, and it’s done with this incredibly beautiful music.”

“Madame Butterfly” happens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. The concert is free, but parking in the marina can cost $7 to $15. For more information, call (310) 305-9545 or visit