Arts & Culture

‘Madama Butterfly’ soars back to open Wichita Grand Opera season

Yunnie Park
Yunnie Park Courtesy photo

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” according to the tenor who sings its lead in the Wichita Grand Opera production, is perhaps the most cinematic in all of the genre.

“It tells a story through time,” Kirk Dougherty said. “It’s not just some symphonic concert. There’s an actual story happening, a series of events in the story. It moves like a movie, but with an absolutely beautiful soundtrack.

“It’s a different kind of genre than most operas, because it reminds you of movies and film-noir in some ways. It represents events as they are in time. Not all opera does that – it makes time expand or contract, depending on musical numbers,” added Dougherty, who made his debut with Wichita Grand Opera last year as Rodolfo in “La Boheme.”

“Madama Butterfly” will be performed next weekend at Century II Concert Hall, kicking off Wichita Grand Opera’s 2017-18 season.

Dougherty plays U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton, who is to be married to a 15-year-old Japanese girl, Cio-Cio-san, in the opera, set in 1904.

“These arrangements weren’t taken very seriously, but out of that comes a big life change for her,” said Dougherty, who is playing the role for the fourth time. “It’s pretty dramatic, the kind of evolution for the characters.”

Yunnie Park, who played Liu in “Turnadot” in 2015 and Gilda in “Rigoletto” last year for Wichita Grand Opera, plays Cio-Cio-san.

Park, who emigrated from Korea 12 years ago, is excited to mark her first time as the lead in “Madama Butterfly.”

“This is such a big role, and I’ve been dreaming of it since I started singing,” said Park, who is now based in New York City. “I had done a few of the arias, but have never sung the whole thing.”

Before rehearsal began, Park intently researched her character.

“It’s such a big, one-woman show. I have to analyze myself,” Park said. “She’s such a heartbroken woman, and I had to try to relate to it.”

Part of the appeal of “Butterfly,” Park said, is that American audiences find themselves mystified by the continent.

“They get attracted to it, and they want to find out more about the Asian culture,” Park said.

Wichita Grand Opera last staged “Madama Butterfly” in January 2011, and posted the complete version on YouTube, where it has received more than 300,000 views in the 6 1/2 years since.

“It was a beautiful production,” artistic director Parvan Bakardiev said.

After a vote of Wichita Grand Opera patrons last year of what titles they wanted to see on stage, “Butterfly” was far and away the winner.

“It’s a 20th century opera and a very contemporary story. It could happen today,” Bakardiev said. “It’s the clash of cultures, which continues today.”

Shayna Leahy is the stage director, and principal guest conductor Martin Mazik leads the orchestra.

The cast also includes Wichita-based singers Michael Nansel, Charleen Ayers and Patrick Greene. Kansas-born international opera star Samuel Ramey plays Prince Yamadori, one of Cio-Cio-san’s suitors – and Ramey’s wife, Lindsey, joins him on stage for the first time at Wichita Grand Opera, playing Pinkerton’s American wife.

For the first time, Bakardiev said, the chorus will include eight performers from Wichita’s Asian community, “so it’s more authentic.

“It’s nice for the community to show its different cultures,” he said.


When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

What: Wichita Grand Opera begins 2017-18 season with Puccini classic

Tickets: $37-$85, with discounts for students and seniors, available at the Wichita Grand Opera box office, by phone at 316-262-8054 or online at