Saturday, December 9

Madam Butterfly – Birmingham Hippodrome

With all the characteristic style and élan we usually associate with Welsh National Opera, “Madam Butterfly” wafted decorously and gracefully into the Birmingham Hippodrome last night, alighted with panache and, once her work was done, flitted off on the thermal undercurrents of a warm and adoring audience and was seen no more.

It was a delight. A crowded, expectant and semi-masked audience sat entranced as the tale unfurled of Captain Pinkerton’s child-bride, Madam Butterfly who, after providing him with a home life and a child, is deceived and betrayed by her thoughtless husband and commits the act which all deceived and betrayed wives seem to commit in opera, but I’ll not inflict a plot-spoiler so early in proceedings suffice to say the denouement arrives inevitably but shockingly and with a bucket or two of blood.

The white, cold and frigid set designed by Isabella Bywater avoids accusations of cultural appropriation by being nowhere and everywhere leaving the audience to impose their own location. As for the lighting, had not the house manager come forth at the top of the show to point out the entire lighting crew had been wiped out by the dreaded bug and their designs had had to be recreated, we would probably not have noticed, but as he did it was impossible not to look at the delightful design and think, “I wonder what it should have been…”

As regular readers will know, there is no more thrilling sound than a pit orchestra tuning up. That tingling expectation of things to come and the things that came were sensational under the baton of James Southall. Puccini’s music soared and sailed deftly and precisely as it should. As for the cast, Alexia Voulgaridou ascended and floated as the title role and deployed a beguiling “One Fine Day” at the top of act two. Leonardo Caimi, as Pinkerton, was strong, distinct and owned the role with an undeniable clarity of tone supported by Gareth Brynmor John as Sharpless and distinct presence of Keel Watson as the Bonze. Equally able in their roles were the wonderful Kezia Bienek as Suzuki and Neil Balfour as the imperial Prince Yamadori.

For those of you not familiar with opera and perhaps think it a little out of your comfort zone I would encourage you to think again. There was nothing stuffy or inaccessible about this, the audience was drawn from all walks of life and, if you’re thinking you won’t understand it, surtitles appear throughout making it crystal clear. Give it a go – you won’t regret it!

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 23rd April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★