Welsh National Opera – Madam Butterfly
Wales Millennium Centre
Friday 10th February 2017
Love’s Poisoned Chalice has passed our lips. Wiping our mouths, we stop and consider WNOs spring season.
After La bohemè, they have done the usual thing and revised their production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. This eternal production stems all the way back to 1978, when they were grounded at our New Theatre. We can’t escape this Butterfly, as it’s acclaim is paramount.
Cio-cio San (also known as Madam Butterfly) a young Japanese girl is betrothed to American Lieutenant Pinkerton. She is 15 and even this young, is considered old in her culture to be marrying. Pinkerton leads her on with promises of his return, after her whole family renounce her after converting from Buddhism to Christianity. She waits for three long years, now with his son, adamant he will arrive back to Nagasaki and carry on in married bliss. The ending of the opera is typically tragic, if not unbearably moving and upsetting.
The only sign of ageing in this timeless production, is the cherry blossom netting which lingers over the top of the stage. The raised platform of the Japanese house helps those sat in-front of you to not to obstruct your view. The sliding doors and miniature Nagasaki below them are highlights of this beautifully rendered operatic masterpiece. It’s interesting to see how Butterfly appropriates American culture, in the absence of her husband through clothes, toys and a billboard filled with posters (the American national anthem is scatter through the music). Does she really know what she has got herself into?
Korean soprano Karah Son is the real deal as Butterfly. With vocal graces and packing a real operatic punch, she never for a moment wavers in her portrayal of the young Japanese girl. Pinkerton here is Jonathan Burton, playing him with a mean spirit and manipulation towards his wife and usually good singing as well.
Another important role is the maid, Suzuki. She keeps the house in order and supports Butterfly in her ways. Played here by Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, she brings a great power and integrity to the role. Her running after Kate Pinkerton with he child at the very end, is always heartfelt and rousing, even after seeing this version three times.
David Kempster is a supportive and encouraging Sharpless, weary of Pinkerton’s actions and empathises with the awful situation Cio-Cio San finds herself in. Richard Wiegold gets a dramatic entrance as The Bonze, furious and with pomp, denouncing her change in religion. Simon Crosby Buttle is the snooty and snooty Goro, the marriage broker, hindering events in the second act and only adding to the misery though his teasing and gossip.
Alastair Moore is Prince Yamadori, another super entrance carried by four servants on a chair. His pleading with Butterfly to marry her, is filled with humour and even sadness as her dogged determination to wait for Pinkerton lost her a rich, local husband who could have devoted on her.
The music is filled with many delights: Un bel di, The Love Duet, the Humming Chorus and the final scene all prove the composers mastery of the dramatic musical form.
Like our protagonist, we as an audience must be patient and away the return of the Pinkerton. Though the opera is a bit longer than it needs to be, few can deny the conclusion doesn’t leave lumps in throats and tears on cheeks.
A butterfly to cherish.
Go see them on tour!
Rating: 5 stars
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