NEW YORK (AP) _ A ``Madama Butterfly'' without a honeymoon house and a flowering cherry tree can, surprisingly, still be beautiful.

The New York City Opera has replaced its 31-year-old ``Madama Butterfly'' sets with a spare, but not stark, production. It indicates a Japanese lack of clutter; beauty is provided mainly by lighting.

Instead of a front curtain, there are shoji panels that push aside to show a bare stage with eight-step risers across the back. In later acts, shoji panels are at the top of the risers, indicating that action in front of them is inside the house. Red light illuminates the arrival of Butterfly's uncle, the Bonze, angry that she is marrying outside the Buddhist religion. A pink full moon and pink light illuminate the love music. Light changes during Butterfly's vigil, waiting for Pinkerton's return.

When Butterfly removes her outer wedding kimono, her servant puts it on a frame and it remains there throughout the opera.

There was an unexpected debut in Tuesday night's performance at the New York State Theater. Tenor Alfredo Portilla had a cold and Barton Green sang Pinkerton. He was scheduled for the part next spring.

Conductor Guido Johannes Rumstadt also was making his debut, but the orchestra apparently didn't properly coordinate volume. When Pinkerton sang, the orchestra seemed especially loud. Green could be heard but his voice was more covered by the orchestra than other singers.

Oksana Krovytska was superb in the title role. Her voice is strong enough for the music but never loses a sense of vulnerability. Kathryn Honan-Carter made her debut with the company as the loyal servant Suzuki, blending well with Krovytska.

Mark Lamos directed, with careful attention to stage pictures.

Michael Yeargan designed the set and Robert Wierzel designed lighting. In the first scene, 15 small red ships _ like one Butterfly's son would play with later _ hung down among a backdrop of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

Another difference from the usual production of ``Butterfly'' was not having her commit suicide behind a screen, before Pinkerton reaches the house. Here, she blindfolded her son and, as Pinkerton appeared in the center opening in the rear sohji screens, she turned toward him and stabbed herself.

In 1994, the New York City Opera began using Puccini's 1904 ``Butterfly,'' in which Pinkerton is more evil than thoughtless. With this production, it has returned to the usually heard _ and more beautiful musically _ 1906 revision.