By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Oct 10, 2015 at 1:03 PM

Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson and Giacomo Puccini.

All three giants in the world of music. All three of them writing perhaps their greatest works, one after another. Three great ones in a row.

For Cooke, it was "What a Wonderful World," "Chain Gang" and "A Change is Gonna Come."

For Nelson, it was "Crazy," "Hello Walls" and "Funny How Time Slips Away."

And for Puccini, it was "La Boheme," "Tosca" and "Madama Butterfly."

Milwaukee is going through what might be called "Puccini season,’ with two of the greatest of his operas getting the treatment from two wonderful companies. It opened with a brilliant production of "Tosca," which closed its run at Skylight last weekend.

There won’t be any withdrawal symptoms, though, because next weekend the highly respected Florentine Opera opens "Madama Butterfly," the last of Puccini’s trio of great works, for a two performance run Oct. 16 and 18 in Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

The opera is an ultra-romantic and ultra-tragic story of a U.S. Navy officer who takes a 15-year-old Japanese geisha for a wife. Officer Pinkerton, though, leaves Cio-Cio San and returns to America. She delivers their child and raises him, all the while resisting efforts to get her to remarry and pining for the return of Pinkerton. She is convinced he will be back. 

He does return – with his American wife but believing he has made a mistake leaving Cio-Cio San. His wife, Kate, has agreed to raise the child, and Cio-Cio San says she will give the baby to them if Pinkerton himself comes to see her. He does, she blindfolds her son and gives him to Pinkerton, then walks behind a screen and stabs herself with her father’s knife.  

The role of cio-Cio San has one of the most beautiful and famous arias in all of the world of opera, one many people have heard at one time or in one version or another. The aria is "Un Bel Di" – or "One Fine Day" – and you can hear the famed Maria Callas sing it here.  

In Florentine’s production, the role will be sung by soprano Alyson Cambridge, who made her Florentine debut in "La Boheme" last year. Cambridge is a highly-acclaimed soprano who has sung in the leading opera houses throughout the world over the last decade.

Pinkerton will be sung by Texas tenor Eric L. Barry who is making his Florentine debut. Opera News described Barry as having a voice, "with a clear timbre, evenness of projection and exceptional sensitivity."

This opera is one of the rare ones in Puccini’s repertoire that has two significant roles for women, and mezzo Julia Mintzer will sing the role of Suzuki, the handmaiden to Cio-Cio San. A mezzo has a voice slightly lower than a soprano, and Mintzer is known for the drama and expressiveness of her voice.

Mintzer will sing this year with the Washington National Opera, whose director is Francesca Zambello – one of the most famous names in the world of opera and the artistic director of the famed Glimmerglass Festival.

This production is under the stage direction of William Florescu, the artistic director of Florentine, and the baton of Francesco Lecce-Chong, who spent four years as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and now serves as the assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

"Madama Butterfly" runs Friday and Sunday nights. Information on showtimes and tickets is available here.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.