"I beg you to love me," sang Madame Butterfly (soprano Milagros Williams) last night in the Queen Anne Auditorium of the Prince George's Community College, " . . . To love me just a little."
It might have been a plea not only for the 15-year-old Japanese heroine but for the small, valiant Prince George's Civic Opera, which presented Puccini's tear-jerker and earned substantial applause in the face of considerable problems.
It is hard not to love an organization dedicated to bringing opera to new audiences on the smallest possible budget. Even when the results of its efforts are artistically mixed and the problems are as evident onstage as the solutions, there is something attractive about what this group is trying to do.
Last night's problems came primarily in the first act, which fills the stage with a bustle of colorful activity: the meeting of hero and heroine, their wedding almost immediately thereafter, a violent interruption of the festivities and a climactic love duet.
Williams and tenor Christopher King were in rather uneven voice, but they had their good moments. The real problems came in some of the secondary roles and the chorus--nonprofessional performers whose limitations are more evident in the exotic flavor of "Butterfly" than in an opera where they need not try to look Japanese. The problems were compounded by memories of last summer's brilliant production by the Summer Opera Theatre, which probably has about the same annual budget as the P.G. Opera but uses it all on one production.
There were positive points, of course. The opera was sung in English, with a fair percentage of the words intelligible, and it probably gave quite a few members of the audience a clearer perception of some plot details. There was one excellent voice, Jeanne Haughn in the role of Suzuki, and another one of considerable promise: Jerrold Pope as Sharpless. Joseph Myering brought a lot of energy to the role of Goro and gave it a distinctive character, though not quite the one usually found in other productions of this opera.
But the chief reason for being in the Queen Anne Auditorium last night was the scheduled debut of conductor David Abell, who made his unscheduled debut last January in the Washington Opera's "The Turn of the Screw," substituting for John Mauceri on very short notice.
Facing the radically different demands of Puccini, with a somewhat less proficient orchestra than he had at the Kennedy Center, Abell showed fine musicianship throughout, supporting the voices effectively, pacing the production well and accenting the orchestra's frequent comments on the action with a deft touch.