Tonight the Makropulos Case opens its run at the SF Opera, as if the scheduling gods wanted to contrast this rare, exciting, must-see opera headlined by superstar Karita Mattila, with the yet-another-Madama Butterly we heard last Friday. It was the second cast for Puccini's beloved opera, headlined by soprano Daniela Dessi and conducted by SF newcomer Julian Kovatchev. They replaced Svetla Vassileva and Nicola Luisotti, who had to head out of town to conduct Fanciulla at the Met. If you can see only one of these productions, we strongly encourage you to take a chance on the Makropulos Case as Butterflies come back pretty much every other year.

Everything has been said about this Madama Butterfly production from Harold Prince and the Chicago Lyric Opera: the lazy Susan rotating set that crams the maximum of cliches about Japan on the minimal amount of real estate. Buddha, pagoda-style roof carpentry, lantern, cherry blossoms, sliding screens, lotus tree, it's all there, in a glorious plasticky kitsch. And truth is, it's all in Puccini's score too. Puccini lifted any Japanese theme he could steal and he was by no mean immune to cliche. In that sense, the stage production respects the composer's intent. But Butterfly, an opera that is second on the most produced list at SF Opera, requires more than respect to elevate.