A pair of stellar singing and acting performances by the two principal roles helped Syracuse Opera's production of "Madama Butterfly" pack an emotional wallop. I only wish I owned the Kleenex tissue concession in the lobby.

Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San) is Puccini's most tragic heroine, renouncing family, ethnic roots and everything dear to her to marry the man she loves. Korean soprano Jee Hyun Lim gave us a Butterfly whose heart-rending journey of coming to grips with the realities of love covered virtually all emotional states and convincingly so - running the gamut from ecstatic rapture to excruciating pain.

Lim, the only character in this opera to spend virtually the entire 21/2 hours onstage, was brilliant from the start, and her voice never appeared to tire - from the touching "Love Duet" ("Viene la sera") at the end of Act 1 to her poignant farewell to her child ("Piccolo Iddio") in the final act.

Lim's soprano is rich in color and detail and projects well throughout all registers. Her gentle tugging of the heartstrings in the show-stopping "Un bel di" brought the house down.

Like Lim, Michael Hendrick as Pinkerton has a powerful voice that loses no steam in its high register and that can soar well above Puccini's sizable orchestral accompaniment, as in his "Dovunque al mondo" of Act 1 and the "Love Duet" with Lim.

To varying degrees, the rest of the cast fell somewhat short of the Herculean efforts of the two leads.

Timothy Lefebvre, as the sympathetic American consul, Sharpless, appeared stiff in his manner of acting and reserved as well in his singing, until he came to life in the final act with the magnificent trio with Suzuki, Butterfly's faithful servant, and Pinkerton.

Sahako Soto, as Suzuki, was simply too maudlin in her mannerisms and had trouble projecting throughout the production.

Among the smaller roles, David Neal as Butterfly's uncle, the Bonze, appeared much too wimpy to spit fire in his denunciation of his niece for abandoning her culture. Joseph Hu, as the unctuous local marriage broker, Goro, was never quite able to provide the much-needed comic relief required of his character.

The simple but persuasive early 20th-century Japanese period set, designed by Boyd Ostroff and Kevin Baratier, depicts a traditional Japanese house with sliding paper shoji screens, a footbridge adorned with Japanese wisteria and a statue of Buddha. The centerpiece of the design is a large translucent backdrop that projects a muted image of the sky, mountains and shoreline off Nagasaki Harbor.

Lighting designer Anne Kiefer's back lighting produces some extraordinary mood-enhancing visual effects upon this backdrop - with colors and atmosphere that morph in harmony with Butterfly's ever-changing emotional states.

Stage director David McCarty never quite achieved the necessary amalgam of acting and staging in this production, but he scored rather well in the stunning procession of the geishas accompanying Butterfly's entrance in Act 1 and again during the charming raining of the flower pedals in the "Flower Duet."

The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, under its music director, Daniel Hege, captured as many colors and hues as Kiefer's vibrant lighting effects throughout the opera - right from the "sturm und drang" of the powerful overture, and a well-prepared chorus delivered a charming offstage "Humming Chorus" in Act 2.

The details

What: "Madama Butterfly," presented by Syracuse Opera

When: Friday night

Where: Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St.

Performance time: 21/2 hours, including an intermission

Attendance: about 1,750

Final performance: at 2:30 p.m. Sunday; tickets $15 to $136; call 476-7372.

David AbramsThe Syracuse Post-Standard