If captivating story arcs of love, deception and tragedy are your thing, you don’t want to miss this. The timeless plot of Madam Butterfly takes your heart on an emotional rollercoaster and showcases the human voice in a way that must be heard to be fully appreciated. How are The Welsh National Opera delivering a production that brings this to the fore as well as evolving the interpretation of Puccini’s masterpiece?
Directed by Lindy Hume, the new tour provides an altogether more gritty – more realistically raw – interpretation of an opera that has stood the test of time. Some people may feel the traditional expectations of opera shouldn’t be tampered with or be apprehensive about how such a work could be adjusted effectively; this is the mindset I held upon first seeing this revised version of Welsh National Opera’s Madam Butterfly, but it is not the one I left with. The view I left with is that Lindy Hume’s vision is socially astute and may help opera reach the next generation of audiences.
The key themes of Puccini’s original are not lost. If anything, the faith in romance and social movement from Cio-Cio-San, the deviously deceptive nature of men around her and the tragic consequences of ‘the madness of love’ are magnified. Leonardo Caimi (Pinkerton) is superbly cast, offering a multi-faceted male lead and a voice that really demonstrates how beautiful opera can be. He is an exceptional tenor to experience. Alexia Voulgaridou is equally unmissable, creating a Butterfly that the audience invests in throughout and meets the demands of the arias effortlessly. I found a personal highlight to be her duet with Kezia Bienek (Suzuki), where their voices meld so harmoniously you’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to one instrument. Listening to the performers in this production is truly something out of the ordinary.
The discrepancy between Cio-Cio-San’s faith in love and Pinkerton’s desire for passion are stark. Like voyeurs, the audience watches knowing that Madam Butterfly is the beauty in a jar, the commodity to be had for nothing more than the fact she can be caught and bought. The colonialist, imperialist and misogynistic attitudes of the male characters are inescapable – no amount of romantic overture covers the abuses of power over poverty. It is in this fine balance between retaining the romance and heartbreak of Puccini’s original and revealing the complexities of the darker side to humanity that this production succeeds. As well as pulling at heartstrings, it pulls at the layers of the story arc itself and the psyche of various characters.
Instead of blatant reference to Japan and Japonisme, there is a more general approach that focuses on developing the characterisation, relationships and to a large extent, the messaging in this Madam Butterfly. There are no set or scene changes in the traditional sense. The audience is faced with a box like structure in the centre stage, which revolves throughout the show and provides a direct view of the home setting. At first this may seem cumbersome, but it discreetly places the audience as a fly-on-the-wall, almost making them complicit in the trickery of Butterfly. Although there is a distinctly modern feel to the orb-like house it allows for a greater flow in the performance and more attention to be given to the storyline and singing. This works because the performers and singing are faultless.
An exceptional evening, The Welsh Touring Opera are performing Madam Butterfly until 14th May 2022. Book tickets at https://wno.org.uk/whats-on/madam-butterfly-puccini and keep up to date with their productions on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.
Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle
Reviewed: 4th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★