Ask any opera buff to name the most hideous villain in the standard repertoire, and it’s likely to be a toss-up between Iago in “Otello” and Scarpia in “Tosca,” both of whom are bass roles. Operatic tradition customarily assigns the villainous male roles to the bass and the heroic ones to the tenors.
But what about a tenor who sails into a foreign nation, boasting about having a girl in every port?
This is a tenor who goes through a bogus marriage ceremony with a naïve, underage girl, spends a night with her, impregnates her and sails off, leaving her to raise the child alone.
Then he has the audacity to return, years later, married to someone else, and stand idly by while she does herself in.
Would that not classify him as a villainous cad?
Bryan Hymel, a New Orleans-area tenor who sings the leading male role of U.S. Navy Lt. B.F. Pinkerton in the upcoming New Orleans Opera production of “Madama Butterfly,” agrees that his character is definitely not a loveable one. Members of his family and his local fan base will be in the Mahalia Jackson Theater to see and hear him Friday and Sunday in the final production of the 2012-13 opera season.
The opera will be sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.
Hymel, who sings opposite title role soprano Maria Kanyova (Cio-Cio San), said, “He’s not a very sympathetic character from the viewpoint of the audience, even though he has some very beautiful vocal lines.
“But he’s just one character in a story that teaches us that our actions have consequences. Even if we don’t intend those consequences to happen, they still can happen.
“We should be responsible with life and love and what we do, and not be selfish. And he is a very selfish character.”
In the end, Pinkerton does pay for his reckless selfishness, one has to assume, with a lifetime of remorse, regret and guilt.
Nonetheless, despite the shame that Pinkerton left on his unsuspecting victim and its tragic consequences, “Madame Butterfly” remains one of the most popular operas in the standard repertoire.
Considered one of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s greatest masterpieces, it is consistently ranked in the Top 10 of Opera News’ most frequently performed operas.
One reason for the opera’s popularity since it debuted in 1904 is the music, according to Hymel. “It is really beautiful music. Everybody in it gets to sing some of it, even the bad guys.”
“Un bel di” (one beautiful day), Cio-Cio San’s Act 2 aria, is the opera’s highlight and one of the most popular solos in the soprano repertoire.
At 33 years old, Metairie native Hymel has already amassed some astounding credentials.
A 1997 Jesuit High School graduate who earned his degree in Loyola University’s opera program, he has sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London and other prestigious houses in Europe and North America. Currently living in Philadelphia, he is slated to reprise Pinkerton at The Met next year.
Modest about having such sterling credits at a young age, Hymel said, “Being a tenor really helps, and I was fortunate to get good training early at Loyola. That really helped me get on the fast track. I’ve been told that my voice is higher than average tenor, which also helps me get more difficult-to-sing roles, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed into anything.”
Others in the “Madame Butterfly” cast besides Hymel and Kanyova are Margaret Thompson (Suzuki), Jake Gardner (Sharpless), Casey Candebat (Goro), Kenneth Weber (Bonze) and Ivan Griffin (Imperial Commissioner).
New Orleans Opera Chorus members stepping out in comprimario roles are Jacob Penick (Prince Yamdori), Caitlin Yadamec (Kate Pinkerton), Taylor Miller (Official Registrar), Aaron Ambeau (Uncle Yakuside), Vickie Thomas (Mother), Meg Frazier (Aunt) and Cara Williams (Cousin).
Kanyova’s daughter, Kathleen, is in the non-singing role of “Trouble,” Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton’s love child.
For a complete synopsis of the opera go to http://neworleansopera.org/2012-2013-season/madame-butterfly-synopsis/.