‘Shepherd’s Dog’ a hit; ‘Butterfly an emotional opera experience

Justin Rodstrom

By Justin Rodstrom

Staff Columnist

Visions From

“The Shepherd’s Dog”

Iron and Wine’s newest release, “The Shepherd’s Dog,” retains Sam Beam’s organic, backwoods sound, yet is brighter, with higher fidelity than the majestically bearded songwriter’s original demo tapes for “The Creek Drank the Cradle,” Iron and Wine’s first EP for Sub Pop Records.

With “The Shepherd’s Dog,” Iron and Wine escapes from the lonely acoustic guitar, giving new life to his writing with drums, piano, accordion and even sitar on “White Tooth Man,” an up-tempo, experimental-sounding tune.

Iron and Wine still gives us that timeless whispered sound from some forgotten corner of the tumbleweed Midwestern United States, which is funny because it somehow gives me the same feeling of centeredness I get from reading Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” the tale of a Middle Eastern caravan.

The one constant thread through all of Sam Beam’s work is a hunger for experimentation – his work with Calexico on the album “In The Reins” is epitomic of this desire, though “The Shepherd’s Dog” is just as strong with new colors and explorations for the singer/songwriter.

“House By The Sea” is one such exploration for Beam, reminiscent of the textures brought out by Trey Anastasio on his 2005 release, “Seis de Mayo.”

Aside from well-documented studio prowess, Iron and Wine is known for warm, intimate and inviting live shows, and I can only imagine the moments this new batch of derivations might create in a live atmosphere.

“Wolves,” an almost funky tune, has many possibilities in a live setting, with a strangely strong bass presence under a soft bull-horned vocal section, funk guitar and Steve Winwood-esque keyboards.

All in all, the seemingly limitless songwriter Beam has put forth another fine studio effort in “The Shepherd’s Dog.”

“Madama Butterfly” at

The Grand Opera House

in Wilmington, Del.

“Madama Butterfly” is one of those operas you hear about growing up as a kid but are never really sure what it is all about. The summarization of the opera as “an opera set in Japan about an American, written in Italian” is possibly one of the most bizarre and confusing settings to enter into.

Once you get used to this setup, however, clarity is found, and “Madama Butterfly” turns from the cocoon of confusion into the beautiful butterfly of a tragic tale. There are many thematic shifts throughout “Madama Butterfly,” always highlighted or underpinned by thematic changes in the accompanying music.

The group of musicians for the Grand Opera House rendition of “Madama Butterfly” included clarinet, double bass, violin, harp and timpani.

“Madama Butterfly” features extensive use of the recitative form to relate the story, made clear by the Grand Opera House’s two supertitle screens that made the story much easier to follow, although it did distract somewhat from the action on stage.

I can now understand some people’s objection to the use of supertitles, as their presence could be seen as taking away from the purity of the piece.

However, it is hard to expect every audience member to know Italian before going into a production of “Madama Butterfly.” One treat was the reprieve from recitative in between the second and third acts.

This section featured extensive instrumental work, with solo work on violin accentuated by thundering timpani and bursting brass work.

In addition, the segueing piece featured some great imitation work leading into the third act. Also, we saw the introduction and reintroduction of certain musical themes and passages to signify joy and sorrow respectively.

The only thing that turned me off slightly to this opera was the almost exclusive use of the recitative form, which, in my opinion can make the instrumental parts suffer for the sake of storyline.

I believe that the best opera would be one that strikes a balance between virtuoso playing and strong composition, with creative singing that can break away from the stricter and less brilliant recitative form into pieces more akin to real “songs.”

Although the instrumental parts were less than noticeable most of the time, the tragic and emotional storyline certainly made up for it. Daniel Holmes played B.F. Pinkerton, a boastful American, full of pride and imperialistic implication, while Youna Jang played the na’ve victim of Cio-Cio-San, otherwise known as Madama Butterfly. In addition, Misoon Ghim played a powerful female position in the supporting role of Suzuki, maid of Madama Butterfly. Timothy LeFebvre played a compassionate, morally grounded Sharpless, the consul for the United States in Nagasaki and Pinkerton’s own moral consul.

Unlike many of the Hollywood storylines we get nowadays, “Madama Butterfly” does not resolve warmly for the audience but only leaves us in strife and tragedy, making no apologies for Pinkerton’s actions and leaving us to make our own decisions.

Overall, the production was emotional and to the point. For a little opera house in the heart of Wilmington, Del., John Douglas (conductor), Leland Kimball (stage director) and the cast of “Madama Butterfly” left a lasting impression with a spirited and poignant production.