With her petite physique and delicacy of gesture, Guiping Deng, from mainland China, strongly evoked the image of a 15-year-old geisha practiced in the art of elegant and superior entertainment as she joined an otherwise familiar cast Sunday afternoon to sing the title role of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" for Opera Pacific at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
Unfortunately, her portrayal of sweet, even giggly adolescence persisted longer than ideal in the second act, so this Butterfly did not rise to heroic stature. But at least she showed tasteful restraint in Ken Cazan's overwrought choreography for the orchestral interlude between the final scenes.
Alas, Deng, who is not a veteran of many "Butterfly" wars, also brought a pint-sized voice to the role, which increasingly faded into the Nagasaki hilltop home, especially during the long second act.
She sang with a cloudy, lyric soprano that was even and focused, but narrow from bottom to top and monochromatic in color. Her diction tended to be woolly.
Like her predecessor, Deng avoided the high D-flat in the entrance aria and took the lower option. She conserved resources for some of the other big exposed high notes, which she never rendered vulgar.
The rough ensemble between her and conductor John Mauceri during "Un bel di" suggested only a lack of sufficient rehearsal time.