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Shannon Kessler Dooley, center, plays Madame Butterfly in the CSO production of the opera tonight and Saturday. Willa Grace Hansard, right, plays her son, Sorrow, and Mika Shigematsu, left, is Suzuki.
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If you go

› What: “Madame Butterfly”

› Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.

› When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, and Saturday, March 25

› Admission: $25-$125

› For more information: www.chattanoogasymphony.com

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Madame Butterfly Shannon Kessler Dooley, left, sings to Levi Hernandez, center, who plays Sharpless, as Mika Shigematsu, cast as Suzuki, looks on.

It's been eight years since the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera presented a grand opera — the last was "La Boheme" in 2009.

But opera returns to the Tivoli Theatre this week when the CSO will present Puccini's timeless love story "Madame Butterfly" on Thursday, March 23, and Saturday, March 25.

Bob Bernhardt, CSO music director emeritus, will conduct the opera. The guest soloists will be supported by 50 instrumentalists in the orchestra and two dozen chorus members.

Cast in the title role is Shannon Kessler Dooley as Cio-Cio-san, playing opposite Eric Fennell as her love interest Lt. Pinkerton. Mika Shigematsu will play Suzuki, Cio-Cio-san's maid; and Levi Hernandez is Sharpless, the American consul.

In Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly is a young Japanese geisha who clings to the belief that her arrangement with a visiting American naval officer is a loving and permanent marriage. She waits three years for him to return to her, but when he does, he's accompanied by his American wife.

The lyrical beauty of Puccini's score — in particular, Butterfly's signature aria, "Un Bel Di Vedremo" — makes "Madame Butterfly" timeless.

Planning for a production of this magnitude began two years ago. Helen Binder is the stage director, Sarah Hall is stage manager. Darrin Hassevoort is the CSO Chorus director.

Kathy Allison, CSO operations manager, and Scott Leathers, technical director and lighting director, have been working with G. Alan Rusnak, set designer from New Orleans Opera Association, along with a 12-person tech crew, and about a dozen set, costume and makeup people.

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