Classical Music & Dance

As the star of Lyric Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly,’ this singer soars — and suffers

As a native of Seoul, South Korea, Karah Son believes she brings a special insight into the character of Cio-Cio San, also known as the title character of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

Being a mother herself only adds to her understanding of the role.

“There is something that feels natural about playing Madame Butterfly’s character for me,” she said. “I believe all mothers are loving and sacrificial when it comes to their children, but perhaps Asian mothers could be somewhat unique in their expression of it. As a mother of an only son, I feel like I can understand Ciociosan’s sorrow and the sacrifice that burdens her.”

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will present four performances of the opera — about a young Japanese geisha’s tragic romance — beginning Nov. 3 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

In rehearsal, Madame Butterfly (Karah Son) comforts her child, Trouble (Henley Spaulding), as they await the return of Trouble’s father, U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton. Keith Myers

The opera’s first performance in 1904 was poorly rehearsed and failed to impress the critics. But it didn’t take long for “Madama Butterfly” to establish itself as one of the most popular works in the operatic canon. Subsequent performances, which included revisions and changes by Puccini, captured the hearts of opera-goers around the world, and now, according to Operabase, “Madama Butterfly” is the sixth most performed opera in the world.

Son says she has been singing as long as she can remember.

“Music has always been a big part of my life from early on because I went to church as a child and I first sang in front of an audience in the children’s choir,” she said. “My parents also loved music, and with their support, I was able to experiment with various instruments and also take vocal lessons.

“One day my vocal teacher introduced me to Puccini’s ‘Manon Lescaut,’ and that was the point of no return. That day, I completely fell for the magic of opera and decided that I wanted to be an opera singer.”

After graduating from Yonsei University in Seoul, Son attended the Vivaldi Music Conservatory in Novara, Italy, and the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where she was mentored by Mirella Freni. Since graduating, she has sung a wide variety of roles with opera companies around the world, but she says she still has an affinity for Puccini.

“I love to sing all of Puccini’s operas,” Son said. “Among them, my favorite is Liu in ‘Turandot’ because I made my debut as Liu. Singing Liu’s beautiful and inspiring arias on that night is still vivid in my memory.”

Lead OPERA20181023KAM0119F
Soprano Karah Son rehearses for the Lyric Opera’s production of “Madama Butterfly.” Keith Myers

Son says that singing the heart-wrenching role of Madama Butterfly is a cathartic experience, but she says she also has to guard against emotional burn-out.

“It is draining to sing Madama Butterfly, not only physically but also emotionally,” she said. “I find relief in cooking. I enjoy going to the market and finding various ingredients. It helps a lot that I’m staying close to Whole Foods. And sometimes, after a performance, I find comfort in listening to my favorite sermons in bed as I try to go to sleep.”

7:30 p.m. Nov. 3, 7 and 9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 11. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35.50-$199.50. 816-471-7344 or

Mariinsky Orchestra

Behzod Abduraimov_D1S2834 CREDIT Nissor Abdourazakov.jpg
Behzod Abduraimov will perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Nissor Abdourazakov

One of the most memorable concerts that I attended last year was the Stradivarius Ensemble, the strings-only version of the Mariinsky Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

On Oct. 29, the Harriman-Jewell Series is bringing Valery Gergiev back to Helzberg Hall, but this time with the entire, turbo-charged Mariinsky Orchestra. It promises to be another concert of the year, with a program that includes Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who was originally scheduled to perform the Rachmaninoff, recently had to cancel, but not to fear. Taking his place will be Behzod Abduraimov, who, along with his mentor, Stanislav Ioudenitch, appeared with the Stradivarius Ensemble last year performing Mozart’s dazzling Concerto for Two Pianos.

Abduraimov, winner of the London International Piano Competition, is one of the finest pianists of his generation. And he has a special rapport with Gergiev. Ever since dazzling Gergiev with a performance in New York in 2013, the two have developed a close working relationship. Abduraimov has since made more than 50 appearances with Gergiev in tours around the world.

Abduraimov has Rachmaninoff in his bones, and his rendition of the Russian composer’s Rhapsody promises to wring every drop of emotion out the Romantic masterpiece.

7:30 p.m. Oct. 29. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $36.50-$91.50. 816-415-5025 or

Ballet Folklórico de México

Fiesta en Jalisco 3.JPG
Ballet Folklorico de Mexico will perform Nov. 3 in Helzberg Hall. CAMI Music

Founded by Amalia Hernández in 1952, Ballet Folklórico de México preserves the rich music and dance culture of Mexico.

The brilliant dance ensemble will fill Helzberg Hall with ornate, colorful costumes, exciting music and thrilling dances on Nov. 3. This will mark Ballet Folklórico de México’s third appearance on the Harriman-Jewell Series.

Over the years, Ballet Folklórico de México has inspired the founding of other ensembles devoted to Mexican dance, including Kansas City’s Grupo Folklorico del Sol, founded by Danny Tetuan. Tetuan’s ensemble and other local folkloric dance groups will join Ballet Folklórico de México for a free master class at 11 a.m. Nov. 3 at the Guadalupe Center, 1015 Avenida Cesar E Chavez. No reservations are required, but seating is limited.

7 p.m. Nov. 3. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $31-$81.50. 816-415-5025 or

You can reach Patrick Neas at and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at