For the third time in its history, the New Haifa Symphony will stage an opera in the coming days, with conductor Tamir Hasson leading his musicians in a semi-staged version of Puccini's heartrending Madame Butterfly. "Haifa music lovers don't need to go to Tel Aviv to hear the opera," says Hasson, whose cast includes both young local singers and rising foreign performers. The promising Japanese soprano Hisako Ikeda will appear in the opera's title role, as a young Nagasaki woman married, impregnated and then abandoned by a visiting American sailor named Pinkerton (Swedish tenor Johan Weigel). Israeli mezzo Yulia Plakhina will play Butterfly's servant, Suzuki, while compatriot baritone Noah Briger will sing the role of Sharpless, the American consul who urges Pinkerton not to enter lightly into marriage with the young Japanese woman. Staging the opera at the Haifa Auditorium required some extra ingenuity from its organizers, who dealt with unusual space constraints created by having both the orchestra and the vocalists share a single stage. "You cannot create a fully staged production with a huge Puccini orchestra on the same stage as the singers," Hasson says, "but we were lucky to work with stage designer Michal Yakobi, who appeared to be very musical, and with well-known lighting designer Yehiel Orgal. Together, we created a special space." The music itself compensates for performers' limited ability to move on stage, Hasson says. "Every note of Puccini's score is a psychological portrait of the characters," the conductor says. "Puccini's is the ultimate music for theater, and even for movies - I believe that composers of cinema scores owe him a lot ... Tempo, orchestration - everything serves here to describe the mood and the atmosphere." The emotional power of the opera, which will be performed Thursday and Saturday, has remained intact in the 103 years since Madame Butterfly's Milan premiere. "To listen to Puccini's score is like reading a play," Hasson says. "Human nature hasn't really changed" since the play's debut performance, he goes on. "This is music that speaks to us."