a sybarite in paradise
reviewing the food & entertainment pleasures of Honolulu
We gave tickets to Hawaii Opera Theatre’sDon Giovannito our friends Susan & Craig for Xmas. They loved it and called to ask if we’d go with them to Madama Butterfly. How could we refuse? We started the evening off at OnJin’s Café just a couple of blocks away from the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall.
I’ve been to OnJin’s before and have always been happy with the food. Last night’s meal wasn’t quite up to my expectations, but good nonetheless. We started out sharing an order of crab cakes. I have to admit I’m very critical of crab cakes. Most of them are too full of binding and veggies. These were better than average with lots of crab and crispy on the outside. We all started out with a salad that was dressed with the house miso dressing. The entrées here
all come with soup or salad to start. I had the monchongspecial. I have a weakness for this delicious fish. It came with a perfectly sautéed mix of choi sum, baby corn and red peppers. The fish was served over a scoop of brown rice that had black beans mixed in. The monchong was laced with a beurre blancsauce and a teriyaki drizzle. It was cooked perfectly and tasty heavenly, if a little salty. Craig had the leg of lamb, which was also delicious and a little salty. Susan enjoyed her shrimp salad, which I didn’t taste. Howard had the snapper which was deep fried and served with beurre blanc sauce with capers. He said it was delicious. The last time we were here I had that and it was indeed delicious. We didn’t have time for dessert, which is good as I was stuffed anyway. The bill was about $90, which included two glasses of wine. A very good value.
On to the opera. Craig procured the most excellent seats in the center row H. It’s a good distance to be at. You can’t see the makeup on the artists and the orchestra isn’t overpowering. The stage is concealed by what looks like a gray garage door with the ugliest kimonos ever hung all over it. I already know that the production design is going to challenge me. When the curtain goes up it reveals and interesting set design and hope is restored. That is, until the clownish costumes appear. The program tells us that Jun Kaneko was trying to avoid “fussy fake-Japanese props and sets that too often make a mockery of Puccini’s sublime creation.” Well, his design accomplishes that but at a high cost. It just didn’t work for me. A few elements did. Butterfly’s entrance was nicely staged and the costume and set design worked very well at that moment. Brightly colored hanging strips are flown in and then flown out and replaced with black strips at the entrance of the Bonze making for a strong statement. On the other hand, large projections of computer animation were mostly distracting. Although it did give the audience something to do during the 7 minute interlude between Act 2 and Act 3. OK enough about the design.
The standout of the evening was Shu Ying Li as Butterfly. She handled all her arias with ease and sounded great doing it. Her biggest moments are in the second act, but it was her short aria to her son at the end of the opera that moved me the most. Yun Deng also shined as Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid. Their duet in the second act was excellent. Quinn Kelsey, from Hawaii, also was strong as Sharpless. The other local Jeremy Blossey delighted in the role of the marriage broker Goro. Kip Wilbron as the dastardly Pinkerton gave a strong performance.

I first saw this opera in the 1970s when I was in high school and Butterfly was played by some huge 50 year old diva. Although Shu Ying Li is not near Butterfly’s age of 15 she most certainly was a lot closer than my first encounter with the role. It was also easy to imagine Kip Wilborn being a sailor. This trend in opera of getting singers that look more closely like the roles they are playing is encouraging. We go to the opera knowing we’ll have to suspend disbelief, but there’s only so far I can go with that. Let this trend continue.
It was a most excellent evening out. Thank you Craig and Susan.
OnJin’s Café - 401 Kamake'e. 589-1666. Lunch: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Dinner: 4-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. No reservations. VS, MC, AX. Checks accepted. $$.
Friday, March 9, 2007
OnJin’s Café & Madama Butterfly